Critter of the Week: Enteroctopus zealandicus – the elusive yellow octopus

The yellow octopus is large and clearly abundant, with about one million being eaten a year by sea lions in the Auckland Islands alone. However little is known about them. This is because the yellow octopus are elusive, clever creatures, able to evade attempts of collection by scientists and fishers.

Enteroctopus zealandicus

The yellow octopus (Enteroctopus zealandicus) is strikingly large, about 1.4 metres total length, yellow to orange smooth-bodied octopus. It is closely related to the giant Pacific octopus (E. dofleini), one of the world’s largest octopus species.

The yellow octopus, Enteroctopus zealandicus (Benham, 1944), a favourite prey item for New Zealand sea lions. Credit: Darren Stevens, NIWA.

A close up of the mouth of Enteroctopus zealandicus, you can just see the black beak peeking out. [Darren Stevens, NIWA]
A close up of the two rows of fleshy suckers on the arm of Enteroctopus zealandicus. [Darren Stevens, NIWA]

Where are they found?

Endemic to New Zealand, yellow octopus are found on the East Coast of the South Island from the Chatham Rise (a submarine ridge between the South Island and the Chatham Islands) to the sub-Antarctic Auckland and Antipodes Islands. They mostly live in deep waters, 300 – 522 metres deep, with juveniles found in the intertidal zone.

This photo shows the ventral side of the mantle of Enteroctopus zealandicus. Its funnel is visible, which is used for jet propulsion through the water column. [Darren Stevens, NIWA]


NIWA marine ecologist, Mark Fenwick, and Chilean researchers Dr. Christian Ibáñez from Universidad Andrés Bello, and Dr. Maria Cecilia Pardo from Universidad de Chile examine and take measurements of a preserved specimen of Enteroctopus zealandicus. [Dave Allen, NIWA]

Further information: