Do Octopuses Have Ink Like Squids?

Written by Kellianne Matthews
Published: December 31, 2022
© Henner Damke/
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Octopuses and squids are two of the most remarkable creatures in the ocean. They are both members of the cephalopod family, with incredibly complex nervous systems and highly advanced problem-solving skills. These underwater invertebrates have many other unique features as well. They can even change color! But have you ever wondered if octopuses have ink like squids? Well, wonder no more! In this article, we’ll explore the world of cephalopod ink and find out what sets these creatures apart. 

Both Octopuses and Squids are Cephalopods

Octopuses and squids are both cephalopods, a group of marine creatures that also include cuttlefish and nautiluses. Cephalopods have a strange allure to them, from their big googly eyes to their charmingly unpredictable tentacles. 

Octopuses and squids — two prime examples of these fantastic sea creatures — are chiefs among the cephalopod group, known for behaviors as mysterious as they are mesmerizing. From their unique ability to hide in plain sight to the remarkable way they communicate with each other, these two creatures truly encompass all the wonderful quirks a cephalopod can bestow on its admirers.

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Do Octopuses Have Ink Like Squids?

Octopus in Water
Octopuses secrete dark ink like squids.


So, both octopuses and squids are cephalopods, but do octopuses have ink like squids? Yes, both squids and octopuses (except for deep-sea octopuses or Cirrina) secrete a dark, sticky ink that serves multiple purposes. However, each species has a slightly different chemical composition. Both species secrete the ink from glands in their bodies, then expel it through the funnel of their mantle. Their ink sacs allow both species to discharge ink into the water as a defense mechanism when they feel threatened. 

The fascinating part is that the ink created by these animals is specifically designed to temporarily confuse potential predators. Its composition is so dense that it takes time for it to disperse, blocking out sight and scent and giving them a chance to escape from neighboring threats. It’s almost like a smoke bomb going off; in the resulting confusion, their predators can’t find or approach them.

What is Octopus Ink Made of?

Both octopuses and squids have ink sacs that they use to release ink as a defense mechanism, and they contain melanin. However, octopus ink is usually thicker and more toxic. What this all means is that octopuses likely have a greater ability to evade or confuse potential predators in their environment. 

Octopus ink is made up of two parts. One part is mucus, which affects its thickness, and the other part is melanin – the same pigment found in dark eyes, skin, and hair in humans. This combination helps create a black color (while squid ink is usually more of a blueish-black), which octopuses can use to scare away predators. In addition, this ink also masks an octopus’s scent, making them even harder for predators to locate.

An octopus boasts an impressive array of defense mechanisms, and its ink-release is particularly fascinating. With a simple thrust of its muscles, the eight-limbed wonder can release a thick cloud of inky fluid that temporarily blinds hungry predators. But it doesn’t end there — the octopus also releases a cloud of mucus along with this ink to further confuse the poor creature who dared to think the octopus was an easy target! This incredible defense mechanism gives the octopus time to make its grand escape.

The unique, darker hue combined with the additional toxins is like a smoke screen, offering the precious seconds needed to make a quick escape. Not only can it temporarily blind predators, but if ingested in toxic doses, it also has serious effects on the overall health of aquatic organisms. That’s worth keeping in mind next time you wander too close to an octopus’ temporary residence.

Octopus Ink and Medicine

blue ringed octopus
Cephalopod ink is studied for its health benefits.


People have been using cephalopod ink — such as octopus ink — for its health benefits for centuries. Ancient Greek and Roman cultures used it as a traditional medicine, and Chinese cultures still use it today. Recently, scientists have been searching for new drugs that can be made with cephalopod ink. In some parts of Asia, such as China and Japan, they use the ink sacs from fish they catch to look for new natural compounds with medicinal properties. This ink is often taken from dead animals or preserved ones.

Cephalopod ink has also been found to have antimicrobial properties that can help protect against a variety of illnesses, including those caused by bacteria. Scientists have extracted cephalopod ink with different solvents and looked for substances that could fight off harmful organisms. Though the exact molecules this involves are not yet known, some of them have been identified as being part of the melanin fraction.

Scientists have also been studying cephalopod ink to see if it has the ability to stop cancer cells from growing. Ink from the common octopus (Octopus vulgaris) is special because it has powerful compounds that can fight off free radicals, which can damage healthy cells. Studies done in laboratories have shown that cephalopod ink can induce apoptosis, which is when cancer cells die naturally. Different chemicals in the ink may be responsible for this effect. However, more research needs to be done to determine how specific it is against cancer cells.

Octopus Ink in the Kitchen

Cephalopod ink isn’t just useful for medicinal purposes — some gourmet chefs actually use this stuff in the kitchen, especially squid ink. From the classic Italian pasta carbonara to the delicious Italian-seafood dish calamari fra diavolo, only top chefs have the boldness and creativity to use this intriguingly dark ingredient. Squid ink adds both color and depth of flavor to dishes. It is sure to tantalize your taste buds with every bite.

Octopus ink, on the other hand, is not a common ingredient. However, it can be occasionally found in a few gourmet dishes. Gourmet chefs sometimes use the deep, smoky flavor and an irresistibly dark hue of octopus ink to add something special to their signature dishes. Its surprisingly salty taste has been said to enhance the flavors of pastas and soups alike. Though overlooked by many, octopus ink is a secret ingredient among some master chefs who are sure to add this mysterious, flavorful morsel to their culinary creations.

Though they may look similar, octopuses and squids are two very different creatures. Octopuses have thicker, more toxic ink that can also release a cloud of mucus to confuse predators. Octopus ink, along with the ink of other cephalopods, is being studied to improve medicines and human health. Chefs use squid ink in many popular dishes like pasta carbonara and calamari fra diavolo, and some occasionally add octopus ink to gourmet meals as well. If you’re ever feeling adventurous, you could try a dish with octopus ink — but be warned, it’s not for everyone!

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About the Author

As a professional writer and editor for many years, I have dedicated my work to the fascinating exploration of anthrozoology and human-animal relationships. I hold a master's degree with experience in humanities, human-animal studies, ecocriticism, wildlife conservation, and animal behavior. My research focuses on the intricate relationships and dynamics between humans and the natural world, with the goal of re-evaluating and imagining new possibilities amid the uncertainty and challenges of the Anthropocene.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Do octopuses squirt ink?

Yes, octopuses expel ink from their bodies as a defense mechanism. The ink is black and mucousy, creating a dark cloud in the water surrounding the octopus that helps to conceal their escape as they swim away from the threat.

Is octopus ink dangerous?

No, octopus ink is not dangerous. It does contain various toxins, but not enough to hurt humans. In fact, in a few gourmet dishes, chefs use octopus ink to enhance flavor.

Are octopuses dangerous?

Octopuses are venomous and can bite, but only the blue-ringed octopus is dangerous to humans.

What is octopus ink used for?

Octopuses use their ink as a defense mechanism to conceal their escape and to confuse their predators.

Humans have used cephalopod ink for centuries for many things, including cosmetics, medicines, art, writing, and food.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.