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7 Surprising Meanings of an Octopus Tattoo

One of the inspirations for monsters throughout history, the octopus reminds us of everything mysterious about the deep sea. Its unique and intriguing nature has fascinated different cultures and inspired countless myths and legends. Surprisingly, the octopus is not just intriguing in appearance but also in its symbolism. Since most symbolism associated with the octopus is based on their characteristics, let’s dig deeper into what these are and why they make for a special tattoo design.

What Do Octopus Tattoos Mean?

Types of octopus tattoos

1. Intellect and Wisdom

Dubbed as the smartest invertebrate on the planet, an octopus has the ability to solve puzzles, navigate through mazes, learn though observations, remember solutions and even use tools. Their heads contain impressively large brains, enabling them to perform miraculous transformations to camouflage themselves in their environments.

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What’s even more bizarre is that their tentacles have minds of their own. For example, while an octopus is busy doing something else, its arms can crack open shellfish. An octopus tattoo will not only remind you to make the most of your intelligence, but also to become more adept in life.

2. Strength and Power

Blue ringed octopus
Blue ringed octopus

Octopuses are predators that take things apart and swallow their prey whole. They might seem adorable and harmless, but they can be highly venomous. For instance, a blue-ringed octopus that’s native to Australia only displays its beautiful blue rings before it attacks. The powerful ink of octopus can harm their enemies, blinding them and affecting their sense of smell. So poisonous is their ink that the octopus itself could die if it doesn’t escape its own ink cloud. For this reason, an octopus tattoo is a daring choice, expressing power, independence and strength in all situations.

3. Sensitivity and Empathy

Did you know that these marine creatures have an excellent sense of touch, and that they can even taste what they are touching? If you’re a sensitive soul, an octopus tattoo is a great way to symbolize your empathetic gift that lets you gain deep insight into the world and the people around you.

4. Freedom and Flexibility

Most octopuses have no protective shells, yet their soft bodies let them squeeze into or out of tight spaces. They’re well armed and good at escaping, deterring predators with their ink. When caught, they can lose arms and regrow them. They can even figure out an escape plan quickly, breaking out from closed aquariums and sealed observation containers.

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In fact, Inky the Octopus became popular for its real-life aquatic escape. The marine creature has marveled the world by freeing itself at New Zealand’s National Aquarium. It simply slipped out of its tank, squeezed its body through a narrow drainpipe and escaped into open waters. It’s no doubt that an octopus tattoo will inspire you to push boundaries and move outside your comfort zone. It also says that nothing can contain your spirit and suppress who you are.

5. Motherhood and Sacrifice


While the jury’s still out on whether wild animals are capable of altruism—the act of showing selfless concern for the well-being of others—an octopus is noted for its dedication to its eggs. Apart from protecting its potential babies from other predators, a mother octopus keeps the eggs alive by pushing currents of water over them, so they’ll get enough oxygen.

It’s even said that a mother octopus obsessively guards the eggs to the point that it never eats. These strange animals reproduce only once, before they die. Sadly, female octopuses die soon after the eggs hatch, simply because their bodies turn on them, eating their own arms and ripping their own tissues. If you want to express your love and sacrifice for your children, an octopus tattoo is a meaningful choice.

6. Mystery and Uniqueness

Octopuses are mysterious, solitary creatures, and have distinct personalities. Their unique nature lets them change color to match their surroundings, as well as flex their bodies to mimic more dangerous creatures like lionfish and eels. They don’t conform to any rules or forms. Their powers appear like superhero powers, from radical transformations to regenerating arms. Some scientists describe certain varieties, especially the California two-spot octopus, as being something like an alien. There are still many things about the octopus that remain a mystery.

7. A Symbol of Betrayal

An octopus has three hearts and they don’t live very long. Their love story is quite tragic as once the creatures mate, it’s game-over for them. In fact, these marine creatures reproduce only once and then die. At first, it might seem like showing devotion—but there’s a dark side to the story.

While some male octopuses wander off to die, most of them are at risk of being killed and eaten by the female. The male octopus simply wants to pass on his genes to a new generation, but a female octopus is often bigger and hungrier than he is.

Types of Octopus Tattoos

Octopus tattoos are highly versatile. They can be dramatic or subtle, artistic or simple. They suit most locations and can easily be shaped to suit curves or angles. They offer something for everyone. Here’s a look at some popular ways of representing an octopus in a tattoo.

Blackwork Octopus Tattoo

black work octopus tattoo

If you want to show your mysterious and dark persona, an octopus tattoo in a blackwork style says it all. You can opt for blackout tattoos that are designed to be completely black, giving some gothic vibes. The dark, bold lines of these designs are great for covering up other body ink you regret.

Realistic Octopus Tattoo

Whether you’re a nature lover or a marine life advocate, a realistic octopus tattoo is made for you. Apart from making your body art look like a photo printed on your skin, the tattoo style will let you capture the beauty and strangeness of the creature. You can also opt for the octopus species that you love.

If you want a bold statement, think of the giant Pacific octopus that’s regarded as the largest kind in the world. Are you looking for the fiercest and the most venomous kind? The blue-ringed octopus is one of the deadliest types of marine life in the ocean.

Colorful Octopus Tattoo

Colourful octopus tattoo
Colourful octopus tattoo. Source.

Who says an octopus tattoo should be creepy and monster-like? Depending on your personality, you can go for a watercolor or even a cartoon design. Its vibrant colors will make your body art more impressive and at the same time will look adorable. This type of octopus tattoo is perfect for those with a cheery personality.

Tribal Octopus Tattoo

These tattoo designs are composed of geometric shapes, abstract patterns and swirls that make up a recognizable octopus art. A tribal octopus tattoo is great for adding an air of mystery into your looks while keeping everything edgy and artistic.

Sketch-Inspired Octopus Tattoo

Sketch-Inspired Octopus Tattoo
Sketch-Inspired Octopus Tattoo. Source.

Artistic, raw and creative, these type of octopus tattoos remind us of an artist’s drawing book. These are designed to resemble hand-drawn features of sketches, from the shading work to incomplete strokes and overlapping lines, as if your tattoo has just been ripped from the pages of a sketchbook.

What’s in a Name?

The term octopus is derived from the ancient Greek word that means eight legs. While the plural for the word is octopuses, some believe that the term comes from Latin, and so formulate its plural as octopi.

Kraken: Octopus in Nordic Culture

The kraken Norse culture

Stories about sea monsters are common in Norse mythologies and one of them is the kraken. It’s thought to be an octopus-like creature that attacks sailing vessels by pulling them down. The word kraken is derived from the Norwegian term krake, which means octopus. However, earlier stories described it as a gigantic whale, a giant squid, or even a crab-like creature.

During the 13th century, the Icelandic saga Örvar-Oddr became popular, narrating the adventures of a hero who encountered two sea monsters. They were the Lyngbakr and the Hafgufa, in which the latter references to the kraken. The monster was said to reside on the coasts of Greenland and Norway.

The kraken is described in many legends as a giant creature with eyes as big as dinner plates, and tentacles that are more than a mile long. It was even featured on ancient maps to guide sailors, and avoid terrifying whirlpools caused by this creature. Some stories say that sailors could be lured by the kraken, as it was as big as an island. These legends served as a cautionary tales to keep people away from the ocean.

Back in the time, the kraken was depicted as undefeatable and only a few who saw the monster lived to tell the tale. Nowadays, the kraken is portrayed as a monster to be slain by a hero. If you’re acquainted with modern-day animations, defeating the monster is even thought to grant your wishes. However, that deviates from Norwegian folklore.

The Octopus as A Political Symbol in Europe

John Bull and friends
John Bull and His Friends by Fred. W. Rose. Public Domain

The 1870s was a time of great political tensions in Europe, and the octopus became a symbol of evil on propaganda maps, in which its tentacles are depicted grasping at land and power. One of them is the Serio-Comic War Map for the Year 1877 by Fred W. Rose. The cartoon map portrays the marine creature as Russia, while the people as other countries.

This was created a few months after the beginning of the Russo-Turkish War, showing how Russia crept like an octopus and caused havoc all over Europe. By the 1900, Rose created John Bull and His Friends that depicted how the political landscape had changed. Eventually, his creations inspired other maps, propaganda posters and other cartographies on using the octopus as a persuasive symbol.

The 1918’s German map Freedom of the Seas portrayed Great Britain as an octopus, with its tentacles reaching the colonized regions. In 1942, the poster Have Faith – The Systematic Amputations Are Continuing depicted Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, as a grotesque octopus smoking a cigar. Its bleeding tentacles represented the British advances and defeats. By the 1980s, The Red Octopus pamphlet showed the territorial expansion of the Soviet Union.

Films That Will Inspire You to Get an Octopus Tattoo

Octopussy and the Living Daylights
Octopussy and the Living Daylights: A James Bond Adventure. See it here.

Octopuses are beautiful creatures, but they’re also fictional, inspiring various films for centuries. Here are some of the films and television series that will make you want an octopus tattoo right now:

  • James Bond: Octopussy

In the film, James Bond is seduced by Magda who has a blue-ringed octopus tattoo. accordingly, this tattoo was the emblem of the secret order of women who were assassins and thieves. However, the strong heroine of the story is Octopussy, a tough survivor and a mastermind, running an international circus to cover her smuggling operations. Who wouldn’t love to keep a venomous yet cute blue-ringed octopus as a pet in an aquarium like her? If you’re looking for a femme fatale statement, an octopus tattoo is the perfect choice.

  • The Little Mermaid

If you want something playful and flamboyant, you may be inspired by Ursula, the octopus witch who steals the mermaid’s voice. While she’s a villain, there are lots of things that make her inspirational. In the past few years, fans have reimagined her as the hero of the story. Even if she has the power to magically change her appearance, she embraces how different she is. She understands the expectations imposed on women and deals with them. She may be a poor unfortunate soul, but she takes control of her destiny.

  • Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D

Whether you’re a Marvel fan or simply want to play villain of the story, you may be inspired by a Hydra tattoo. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Hydra is a terrorist organization that seeks world domination. It has the emblem of an octopus with a skull head, representing its strength in the face of resistance. It’s also featured on Captain America: The First Avenger, Ant-Man, Avengers: Endgame and other Marvel films.

In Brief

The most mysterious creature in the sea, the octopus has long been the subject of many mythologies and legends. As a symbol of wisdom, power and freedom, an octopus tattoo makes a great ink for those who don’t want to be bound by rules and laws.

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As she grew up reading books on mystery, mythology, fantasy, and adventure, Olive developed an urge to explore the world as an adult. After completing a degree in Mass Communications, she built a career in marketing for the past two decades but has spent most of her vacations backpacking through different countries. During her trips, Olive likes to immerse herself in the local culture to further expand her understanding of other people and their lifestyles, which she now uses to aid her writing.