information on the biology of species and the ecology of habitats found around the coasts and seas of the British Isles

Common octopus (Octopus vulgaris)

Distribution data supplied by the Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS). To interrogate UK data visit the NBN Atlas.
Only coastal and marine records shown



A medium to large sized octopus reaching up to 1.3 meters in length, with a distinctly warty body.
The arms are thick and stout bearing two rows of longitudinal suckers.
The colour varies from grey-yellow-brown-green and can change according to the situation.

Recorded distribution in Britain and Ireland

Reaches its north-eastern limit in south-western Britain and the western English Channel.

Global distribution

Worldwide in temperate and tropical waters.


Found on rocky coasts, shallow sublittoral. Has adapted to live in very different habitats

Depth range


Identifying features

  • Medium to large sized, body distinctly warty.
  • Arms stout of about equal length and thickness with two longitudinal rows of suckers, dorsal pair of arms slightly shorter.
  • Colour - variable, grey-yellow-brown-green according to situation.

Additional information

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Listed by

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Further information sources

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  1. Boyle, P.R. (ed.), 1983. Cephalopod Life Cycles, vol 1. Species Accounts. London: Academic Press Inc. (London) Ltd.

  2. Campbell, A., 1994. Seashores and shallow seas of Britain and Europe. London: Hamlyn.

  3. Guary, Jean-Claude & Fowler, Scott W., 1982. Experimental studies on the biokinetics of plutonium and americium in the Cephalopod Octopus vulgaris Marine Ecology Progress Series, 7, 327-335.

  4. Hanlon, R. T. & Messenger, J. B., 1996. Cephalopod Behaviour Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  5. Hayward, P., Nelson-Smith, T. & Shields, C. 1996. Collins pocket guide. Sea shore of Britain and northern Europe. London: HarperCollins.

  6. Howson, C.M. & Picton, B.E., 1997. The species directory of the marine fauna and flora of the British Isles and surrounding seas. Belfast: Ulster Museum. [Ulster Museum publication, no. 276.]

  7. ICES, 1994. Report of the study group on the life history assessment of Cephalopods. Copenhagen-Denmark ICES, K:7, 32.

  8. Miramand, P. & Bentley, D., 1992. Concentration and distribution of heavy metals in tissues of two cephalopods, Eledone cirrhosa and Sepia officinalis, from the French coast of the English Channel Marine Biology, 114, 407-414.

  9. Nixon, M. & Mangold, K., 1996. The early life of Octopus vulgaris (Cephalopoda: Octopodidae) in the plankton and at settlement: a change in lifestyle Journal of the Zoological Society of London, 239, 301-327.

  10. Roper, C.F.E., Sweeney, M.J. & Nauen, C.E., 1984. FAO species catalogue. Vol. 3. Cephalopods of the world. An annotated and illustrated catalogue of species of interest to fisheries. FAO Fisheries Synopsis, 125, 3, 277.

  11. Villanueva, R., 1995. Experimental rearing and growth of planktonic Octopus vulgaris from hatching to settlement Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, 52, 2639-2650.


This review can be cited as:

Wilson, E. 2006. Octopus vulgaris Common octopus. In Tyler-Walters H. and Hiscock K. (eds) Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Reviews, [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. [cited 16-08-2018]. Available from:

Last Updated: 06/11/2006