I'm building a story around a newly discovered kind of deep-ocean octopuses whose ink contain "parasites" which act as acid in organisms.

These ink parasites can be used as a weapon of mass destruction. This is what the director of an underwater lab plans to do, together with the Military of course. The protagonist, a young woman, a teuthologist, who came to work on these octopuses and their ink at the lab, wants to stop that.

Blood of the octopuses acts as an antidote to this ink. It destroys the parasites and reverses the damage done by them. A small dose of octopus blood against a large dose of ink won't help. So there should be either a balance or there should be more blood.

But these parasites don't live long outside of organisms and their ink ecosystem, they die.

These parasites can eat through skin and other soft materials like cloth and paper.

Now I have come to a few problems I cannot solve that are key to my plot.

  1. How do these parasites live withing the body of the octopus, its sacs, and not destroy it?
  2. What could be so crucial in the ink for these parasites to be able to survive only in it and living organisms?
  3. For my plot to work, the parasites should be able to do damage to cables, metal, plastic and so on, when they die. The protagonist will use that when she needs to destroy the lab. She will break an ampoule containing these parasites upon the generators of the lab. What can cause the parasites to maybe blow up or maybe turn into a natural acid upon death?

If anyone has any good ideas, please advise.

I'm interested in theories that would be science-based according to today's world. I mean nothing too much new. Octopuses exist, their ink is a ways of escaping from prey, except that ink of these octopuses is meant to kill rather than help escape. In water, outside of organisms, the parasites will die. So there's not much chance of them spreading. These octopuses live very deep beyond where we can go now.

  • $\begingroup$ What is a theutologist? I know theology and tautology, but none of the two seems to apply. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Jul 7, 2018 at 6:28
  • $\begingroup$ Why the downvotes? $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 7, 2018 at 7:45
  • $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch The correct form of the word is "teuthology." It is a biologist who specializes in research on squids and octopuses or cephalopoda generally. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Jul 7, 2018 at 8:39

3 Answers 3


Despite feeling uncomfortable with a set-up that contradicts our knowledge of octopus biology and even parasitology, this answer will proceed on the assumption this is a fictional world where octopus biology is radically different. It will assume other features of this fictional world are otherwise identical to that of our quotidian reality.

The parasitic ink is adapted to its host, i.e., the octopus and doesn't attack it. This is what good well-adapted parasites do. They don't kill or harm their hosts. This makes evolutionary good sense. This will take care of your questions one and two.

Parasitic ink either exploding or turning into acid? The individual parasites contain sacs full of explosive or acidic compounds or substances. This is similar to Cholera bacteria which have microscopic sacs filled with toxin. When they die, the toxin is released and their human host becomes sick. Upon their death they release these chemicals into the environment. Which means, either Bang! or "Help! my socks and shoes are dissolving!"

It is worth noting that the energetics of an organism, in this case an octopus ink parasite, manufacturing its own explosive or acidic chemicals is prohibitive. This means it's not good for the organism. It will consume a lot of energy to make the chemicals. Energy that can be better spent on growing and reproducing. Please note parasite survival is heavily dependent on their reproducing as the chances of an individual parasite infecting a host, so the next generation can survive and reproduce is very, very small, that's why each generation spawns thousands and thousands of larvae or eggs (depending on the parasite).

  • $\begingroup$ I don't want this ink system to be any different from real life octopuses, except for the hibernating micro parasites contained in it. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 8, 2018 at 4:41
  • $\begingroup$ @SovereignSun Actually the octopuses don't need to be, but the micro-parasites don't need to hibernate. Hibernation is a lousy adaptation for a parasite. The micro-parasites can be adapted so they 'know' not to attack their hosts (the octopuses), Otherwise they can thrive & multiply in the ink sacs & siphons of octopuses. Their tendency to attack stuff & destroy can be exhibited when they're outside of an octopus.The octopus ink itself could be the substance inhibiting their destructive behaviour. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Jul 8, 2018 at 12:58

Do you count bacteria aas parasites? Because that's the easiest explanation for me.

The deep-sea and octopus blood are able to provide special amino-acids that make bacteria dormant.
When bacteria is removed from deep sea and there is no supply of that acid it goes berserks. So without pressure the bacteria is alive but not aggressive. But when wake up and not provided "food" it start to eat anything to survive. Because it act as a parasite. It take nutrients from host blood.
The octopus blood may not kill the bacteria (great for sequels) but just provide right amount of amino-acid that put bacteria to sleep for a very long time.

There is bacteria called Ideonella sakaiensis 201-F6 that eat plastic source form newsela.com

And guess what. Japanese scientists, because you know. Japan and sea food.

  • $\begingroup$ So, absence of ink makes these bacteria go berserk and attack? This makes sense. The idea of amino-acid not killing them is bad, they must die! $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 9, 2018 at 10:49
  • $\begingroup$ NO, the absence of blood that supply the amino-acids. Amino-acid is a ingredient of squid ink. It's supplied by blood. For example glutamine is such thing. If you want to kill the bacteria then the way could be: - pressure and squid blood = dormant bacteria, no pressure + no amino-acids = bacteria go bonkers, no pressure + excessive amount of amino acid bacteria eat itself and die. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 9, 2018 at 10:55

A point of origin is the Portuguese man of war. These critters are zooids, which means they are actually colonies of small animals. So the stings come from specialized animals that stings the victim for the good of the Motherland.

The same logic applies to octopi. If the parasites live off the octopus and the acid makes the octopus more likely to survive then the parasites get an advantage from generating acid and the octopus gets advantage from feeding the parasites.

  1. The parasites only need to generate acid outside the octopus. Inside it would be useless waste of energy so is not done. Reasonably the acid generation would be triggered by the parasites starving to death.

  2. Food. The octopus has evolved to feed the parasites. The parasites have evolved so that they no longer can feed from other sources. This food would probably be some sort of simple sugar. The sacs would also contain proper concentrations of other nutrients, which sea water would not and the parasite would no longer be able to get from elsewhere.

  3. Starvation. It might try to switch to alternate metabolism that cannibalizes the parasite for energy and releases lactic acid.

It should be noted that such a parasite would be capped at being as destructive than pouring the equal amount of lactic acid on the equipment. Which is much less than you want.

This could be circumvented by having the parasite metabolize nutrients from the environment but you would then be capped at being as destructive as pouring an amount of lactic acid equal to the combined mass or parasites and nutrients you pour on the equipment. Which is not much of an improvement. "Why are you pouring sugar on our generator, Dr. Evil?... Evans, I meant Evans! Sorry! I am going now!"

A better model might be an acidophile that thrives in acidic solutions and tries to maintain such by generating acid. In a small sac the acidity would be stable for the parasite to thrive but when released the parasite would go into on overdrive acid production (formic or acetic acid, maybe) and then die when it runs out of energy. The sac would be protected from the acid by the mucus secreted on its inner surface (much like our stomach is). The mucus could also serve to feed the parasite.

But you'd still be capped in the amount of acid the parasite can produce just as above. Feeding the octopi, milking them for acid, and then pouring the acid on the equipment would be more practical.

Maybe if you could make a device that attracts octopi from the environment and then scares them into releasing acidic ink. But it still gives no advantage over just making the ink acidic.

Sorry to ramble, hope there was something useful.

  • $\begingroup$ I wanted to have the acid be a sort of cryocamera for these parasites at first.. Now I am thinking. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 9, 2018 at 14:39

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