Terrance the octopus has dozens of babies an Oklahoma family now cares for


Cameron Clifford had finally given in to his son’s pleas and bought him a pet octopus. After several weeks, he was getting the hang of caring for their new tentacled pet — then he discovered what looked liked dozens of “puffed-up, clear Tic Tacs” inside its den.

Terrance was not a male octopus, as they had first thought. Her new tank in Cal Clifford’s bedroom was filled with dozens of eggs.

But that was only the first twist in a saga playing out in Edmond, Okla., that captivated thousands of people on social media. The biggest surprise, Clifford said, actually came one night in February, when he picked up one of the eggs — which he had long assumed weren’t fertilized — and accidentally popped it. What he thought was a “blob of some strange liquid” came out and fell back into the tank.

Seconds later, that blob started swimming. It was a tiny version of Terrance.

“I just screamed my wife’s name,” Clifford, 36, told The Washington Post. “That started the whole stress of it because now we felt this immense responsibility of taking care of these babies.”

Over the next week, the Cliffords tried to catch the hatchlings. Suddenly, the family was tending to 50 baby California two-spot octopuses — also known as bimacs.

A family in Oklahoma bought one pet octopus. Now, they are hoping to find public institutions to house her babies. (Video: HyoJung Kim/The Washington Post)

The mission to keep them alive has been complex, time-consuming and expensive. Clifford estimates that the special tanks and other equipment they’ve purchased have cost his family about as much as a used car.

But it’s also been joyful, said Clifford, a dentist whose TikTok videos chronicling the ups and downs of caring for octopuses have garnered millions of viewers, brought in support from across the country and been called “nothing short of remarkable” by one expert.

“It’s something that I think a lot of people need because there’s so much bad news in the world,” Clifford said. But he’s quick to add a warning: “Having an octopus is hard. It’s laborsome and expensive. It’s wet. It’s all of the above. So you shouldn’t do it if you’re not prepared to follow through.”

How the Cliffords wound up owning about 90 percent of all octopuses in Oklahoma is a journey that begins with his son’s love of marine biology — especially octopuses. Cal, despite living far from the ocean, had begged for a pet octopus for years. Since he was 2, Cal has requested octopus-themed parties and dressed up as the animal for Halloween.

By the time Cal was 8, Clifford said it was clear it wasn’t just a phase. So one day, Clifford stopped at a local aquarium store and asked if it was possible to buy an octopus.

It was, technically, Clifford recalled an employee telling him, but it wouldn’t be a good first pet.

Clifford mentioned the conversation over dinner, and Cal’s face lit up, he said. When Clifford shared a video of Cal’s reactions with their loved ones, they told him he “was going be the worst father” if he didn’t follow through.

Clifford took the hint and in August bought a secondhand 60-gallon tank. On Cal’s birthday in October, an octopus arrived by mail, swimming inside a bag of water.

Without hesitation, Cal declared the octopus’s name would be Terrance after the mischievous character in the Wayside School children’s book series.

Terrance quickly became a beloved member of the Clifford household, which was why seeing eggs in the tank in December was devastating: Octopuses usually die soon after laying eggs.

After consulting experts, Clifford figured the eggs hadn’t been fertilized since Terrance — whom they now occasionally called Terry — hadn’t been around a male in several weeks. But in February, when Clifford saw an egg that had detached from Terrance’s den and decided to inspect it more closely, baby No. 1 was born: Pearl.

Over the next few days, 49 more babies followed, including Seaoncé, Jay Sea, Swim Shady, Squid Cudi, Bill Nye the Octopi and Champ, who was named by a friend of Clifford’s who is going through cancer treatment.

Turns out it wasn’t a case of “Bimaculate Conception,” as Clifford put it, using a riff on Terrance’s breed. Terrance, who was found off California’s coast, mated before she was caught by a diver. The delayed delivery was a product of octopuses’ ability to withhold laying their eggs until they feel safe.

The prospect of caring for 51 octopuses was daunting, Clifford said. But luckily, he added, he’s not alone. Tim Tytle, 80, a retired radiologist who also owns two octopuses — in addition to thousands of geckos, scores of sea horses and dozens of venomous lizards — has been a big help. The two first met around January, when Tytle found out the Cliffords were the only other private octopus owners in Oklahoma and have been a source of support for each other ever since, Tytle said.

Clifford said Tytle was his first call the night he discovered baby Pearl. Soon, the two were scouring books and brainstorming how to get the right food and containers for the hatchlings.

A lot of the octopus babies died in the beginning, especially in their transport to Tytle’s place after a leak upended Clifford’s home. But Tytle said they’ve learned a lot, “and now it’s so much easier.”

Tytle owns a duplex where he keeps most of his pets, and the 23 remaining octopuses now live there. The babies are fed a daily serving of live mysid shrimp Tytle sources from the East Coast. Each octopus is kept in its own plastic container to prevent cannibalization. Soon, they’ll move to a new, 180-gallon tank worth upward of $10,000 that Tytle purchased.

Raising the sea creatures is expensive and time-consuming, but Tytle said the “amazing” animals are worth it.

“They’re very intelligent,” he said. “Octopuses know one person for another and can change color by just snapping your fingers.”

Clifford and Tytle are now on a mission to find good homes for the octopuses. Clifford even hired an intern to help contact research institutes, aquariums and sanctuaries. Though lots of people have volunteered to take a miniature Terrance, Clifford said they won’t give the babies to private owners. So far, some researchers and professors have expressed interest, he said.

Paul Clarkson, director of husbandry operations at California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium, said finding aquariums to take the babies could prove difficult. Bimacs don’t necessarily have the wow factor associated with other breeds, like the giant Pacific octopus. Still, he applauded Clifford’s efforts to find places that can properly care for the octopuses.

Clarkson admits he’s skeptical of families trying to raise octopuses, but said seeing what the Cliffords accomplished is “pretty remarkable” — especially since octopuses have such a high mortality rate when they’re young.

While he cautioned that octopuses probably don’t belong in most households, Clarkson said he’s delighted that the Cliffords’ journey has introduced more people to the mysterious species.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if 10 to 20 years down the line, there’s some young marine biologist saying, ‘Oh, yeah, it was Terrance the octopus that got me jazzed about this,’” Clarkson said. “It’s just like when I was watching Jacques Cousteau videos when I was a kid.”



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