Thinking of getting an octopus tattoo? You’re in good company! The octopus tattoo has as many meanings as it does artistic variations.
The octopus symbolizes intelligence, resilience, mystery, and strength, among other things.
Read on to learn more about traditional octopus tattoo meanings and options for your new octopus piece.
Octopuses are crazy smart. In fact, they’re the smartest invertebrates in the world. Not only do they have huge brains, but their eight arms have their own intelligence, allowing them to it could more easily find prey and avoid predators.
Octopuses live in the deep, dark of the ocean–an extremely harsh environment. So it follows that an octopus tattoo can symbolize resilience. Beyond that, octopuses can survive even after sustaining severe damage, even regenerating body parts after serious injury.
Octopuses are squishy. And, in the marine world, that’s not a bad thing (oh, to be an octopus). Their soft bodies, unprotected by any kind of exoskeleton, allow octopuses to move easily through cracks and small holes.
As mentioned, each of an octopus’s eight arms has its own nerve center that function independently. This is an evolutionary trait the cephalopods developed to help them hunt and survive predators in dangerous ocean depths.
Octopuses also adapted to develop poisonous saliva and (for most) squirtable dark ink that can blind predators.
This connection between growth and the octopus comes from the octopus’s ability to squeeze through ridiculous small spaces. When they come out the other side, they kind of ooze and look as if they’re growing. It’s a sort of metamorphosis that can symbolize so many things, not the least of which is growth.
And, of course, octopuses can regrow injured limbs.
Each arm of an octopus can act on its own. That means that while one arm is doing dishes, the other can be making dinner (or more typical octopus chores, of course).
Although the octopus’s brain can control each limb, the arms are also able to act independently, as needed, for the good of the whole organism.
When considering an octopus tattoo to symbolize control, however, be aware that this representation could be seen negatively. Control over oneself is a virtue, but controlling others is far less honorable.
It doesn’t get much more mysterious than thriving in the depths. At least as far as we landlubbers know. So it’s no wonder the octopus is often used as a symbol of mystery.
If you dig a little further, you might notice that octopuses are way different than most creatures. They have three hearts. They have camouflaging skin. And then there’s that whole 8-independent-arms business.
There’s a lot about the octopus we don’t understand. That makes for a pretty mysterious beast.
Furthering this idea of mystery is the connection between an octopus and the mythical Kraken. This squid-like creature is said to live in the waters of Norway and Greenland and terrorizes sailors. Tattoos representing the Kraken with its arms wrapped around a ship evoke feelings of mystery and the unknown.
Strength and Power
An octopus tattoo can also symbolize strength and power. When you think about it, that jives with some other symbolic meanings, too, like adaptability and resilience.
If you’ve ever watched a graceful octopus, either in real life or on the screen, you know they can appear super chill and graceful. However, these ocean predators can be extremely venomous, with poisonous ink that is powerful enough to blind any attacker.
Maybe equally impressive is how an octopus uses its eight legs to build its own house out of heavy rocks. Some even add a rock door to their domicile, which they close to stay safe from predators while resting.
An octopus tattoo is a meaningful way to represent sensitivity. An octopus’s arms are full of nerves that report back to the nerve center in each appendage.
Scientists have also found that octopus skin contains the same pigment proteins found in eyes that detect and respond to light.
Motherhood and Sacrifice
Octopuses are known to be fiercely dedicated to their eggs. A mother octopus will protect her eggs from predators and also take care to push water over her eggs to ensure they get enough oxygen.
At times, a mother octopus guards her eggs so intently that she doesn’t eat for extended periods of time.
Octopuses reproduce only once and die shortly after that, having given the last of their resources to their offspring.
Japanese Octopus Tattoo Meanings
Given that Japan is an island, it’s no wonder the people there have a deep connection with sea life. Combined with the rich artistic culture in Japan, sea creature tattoos from this part of the world are some of the most beautiful and popular.
Octopuses also figure largely in Japanese culture. The Akkorokamui is a mythical giant octopus similar to the Nordic Kraken. Although the creature can be unpredictably hostile, it’s also thought to have strong healing powers and the ability to bestow great knowledge.
Polynesian Octopus Tattoo Meanings
Polynesian tattoos, frequently done in what’s become known as a tribal style, tend to be one continuous pattern, symbolizing the interconnectedness of everything in the universe.
In Polynesian culture, the octopus is seen as a leader, companion, and protector. It is sacred and wise.
Like Japan, the people of Polynesia are island-dwellers, meaning that sea life is very integrated into every aspect of their lives. It makes sense, then, that the octopus tattoo, with all its general symbolism, is a popular choice among Polynesian people all over the world.
Octopus tattoos can often be seen decorating sailors’ bodies, which is no big surprise considering how much time most sailors spend at sea.
To survive this way of life, sailors must be adaptable, resilient, focused, and mentally strong–all traits represented by an octopus tattoo.
The blue-ringed octopus releases venom that is more toxic than cyanide. This octopus strikes fast.
A blue-ringed octopus, then, can mean that you’re not to be messed with.
Elephants are, in many ways, the octopus’s land-dwelling counterpart. The creatures symbolize intelligence, wisdom, and creativity, just like the octopus.
Elephant octopus tattoos are often drawn as an elephant head with eight octopus arms.
For those wanting to tap into the darker side of the octopus’s character, the skull octopus tattoo may be what you’re looking for.
Octopuses live in dark, deep, hostile waters. We find them mysterious and even a little scary (remember the Kracken and the Akkorokamui?).
What goes better with dark and dangerous that a skull?
A tattoo like this can mean a few things. It can represent fear–either living with it, causing it, or overcoming it–or a brush with death.
Ship and Octopus Tattoo Meaning
A popular tattoo among sailors is an octopus sinking a ship. This is a reminder of the dangers at sea and the ongoing battle between creatures under the sea and the humans who claim to control the waters.
More tangentially, this tattoo symbolizes sailing into danger head-on. even knowing the potential consequences.
Styles to Consider
As mentioned, the octopus is sacred to several Polynesian communities, representing smart and careful leadership as well as wisdom and strength.
But you don’t have to be of Polynesian descent to get a meaningful octopus tattoo in this style.
Tribal style focuses on the lines and patterns, and these can be expanded to emphasize growth and embellished with patterns that signify complexity of character.
This style is for you if you prefer classic tattoo designs but crave a more varied palette and a slightly less-heavy hand. Neo-traditional tattoos can take the classic octopus image and give it new life.
New School tattoos feature highly stylized tattoo elements, like huge eyes, shocking color palettes, and unique details and shading.
Realistic tattoos are a beautiful way to showcase the details of this majestic sea creature. Intricate and authentic, this tattoo style is much like the octopus itself.
This tattoo style is a fun way to play with shapes and structures to depict an otherwise squishy creature. You might add meaning to your octopus tattoo by portraying it with perfect symmetry and solid construction, highlighting the octopus’s inherent complexity.
Vibrant watercolor tattoos are a cool way to incorporate different shades of color into your octopus tattoo. You can select colors that are meaningful, like purple for wisdom, or that are more nature-based, like an ocean blue palette.
Abstract Octopus Tattoos
Contrary to the realistic style, the abstract tattoo style supports the ideas associated with the octopus: adaptability, complexity, and grace.
Where to Place Your Octopus Tattoo
As with any tattoo, you should always get what you want placed wherever you want; no explanation needed! Bear in mind that if the octopus piece you want involves long or elaborate arms, you’ll need to place it on part of your body that can accommodate the size and detail.
Read on for some good location options for your new octopus tattoo.
The forearm is a great location for an octopus tattoo. Placing your new art here makes it noticeable but still in a place that you can cover with a sleeve if needed.
There’s plenty of room for winding arms at this location, too (assuming you don’t already have a bunch of other arm tattoos).
This option also leaves open the possibility of building out your octopus to a half- or full-sleeve design.
The shoulder area is full of contours that make for a very interesting tattoo canvas. The curves of your collarbone, shoulder, and arm allow your tattoo artist lots of space to wind octopus arms creatively.
The thigh is a good place for a larger, more intricate octopus tattoo. For most people, it’s a nice big canvas where your artist can go wild. There’s also likely room for some extensive octopus arm wrapping.
If you’re leaning toward a more complex design for your octopus tattoo, consider your thigh, but the lower leg is also a good location, given its relatively open space and potential curves.
There are lots of options for a beautiful piece on your leg.
Another large canvas for your new octopus tattoo is the chest. There’s lots of room to spread out onto your limbs or around your side to your back if you want to go big!
Bear in mind, however, that in most cases, a chest tattoo will likely be covered up a lot of the time.
Imagine wrapping your octopus’s arms around your ankle and heel. The top of the foot provides a fairly easy surface to work with, and good tattoo artists can do some amazing lacing around your ankle or toes or even extend up your leg.
The back allows the most space for your octopus tattoo. Even if you have other ink already back there, it’s likely you have space somewhere for your new sea creature.
The downside to a back tattoo, however, is that you don’t get to see and enjoy the artwork as much as if it was in almost any other location.
An Intelligent Choice
The options for a meaningful octopus tattoo are wide-ranging and diverse, and you can make your octopus tattoo as simple or complex as you’d like, even down to the art style.
With so many ways to make it your own, an octopus tattoo is truly an intelligent choice for your next piece.
Check out the Tattoo Meanings blog posts on our website to learn what other tattoo images represent!