Keepers at Bristol Aquarium have given their giant octopus a Christmas treat in the shape of a child’s activity ball.

 The Playskool Explore n Go Activity Ball is aimed at toddlers, however it has also proved to be a big hit with Merlin, the giant Pacific octopus.

Staff fill the brightly-coloured plastic ball with a selection of fishy treats and then see how long it takes the massive cephalopod to solve the puzzle and get to the food inside.

 “The activity ball is perfect for Merlin as it has a series of different textures on its surface, is extremely robust and also has compartments and spaces inside which we can fill with food,” said Curator Dan de Castro.

 “Merlin then needs to work out how to get to them, which means he has to use both his brain and his dexterity.

 “The only problem we now have is trying to get the ball back from him as he seems to have become very attached to it. As soon as you have been able to prise one of his tentacles off he grabs it with another one!” he added.

 Keepers use everything from Perspex boxes and rubber toys to fishing floats to ensure Merlin is constantly getting new physical and mental stimulation.

 Giant Pacific octopus are the world’s largest species of octopus and are found from Japan to Southern California. The biggest recorded specimen had an arm span of 10 metres (33ft) and weighed 270kgs (600lbs).

 As well as being the largest, giant Pacifics are also among the cleverest members of the cephalopod family.

 “Merlin is well known for his curiosity and intelligence. We’ve devised a series of puzzles, games and toys to ensure he’s getting the mental stimulation he needs but the activity ball is definitely his favourite at the moment,” added Dan.

 Despite their intelligence Giant Pacific octopus are relatively short lived – going from the size of a rice grain at birth to being fully grown within the space of two years.

Issued by Bristol Aquarium. For more information and to arrange interviews and picture opportunities please contact Tina Patel and David Waines on 0117 934 0944 or Dan de Castro on 0117 934 0943.