You’ve heard of Octomom – but Octopus dad is the internet’s latest obsession

It all started because his 9-year-old son wanted a pet.

Not just any pet. An octopus. Specifically, a California two-spot octopus, also known as a bimac.

So, Cameron Clifford, a 36-year-old dentist in rural Oklahoma, did what many dads would do. He made a call to a local aquarium store inquiring about getting an octopus.

Little did he know, that call would eventually spawn 50 surprise octopus babies in his home, thousands of dollars in water damage and other fees as well as an epic father-son TikTok saga that has warmed the hearts of nearly 400 thousand followers.

"I think there's a lot of people out there that had this crazy pipe dream when they were a kid, and then it just kind of fizzled away as they got older," he says. "I think they also really empathize with kind of this stereotypical story of a father who decides to give his child a pet, and then, of course, turns into the father almost taking exclusive care of that pet, except to the nines in this case."

How did an Oklahoma dad end up with an octopus?

Clifford says his son Cal has always had deep, inexplicable love for octopuses. Since he was 2, Cal has asked for a pet octopus at every birthday, Christmas and major holiday.

Clifford and his wife always thought it was a funny and adorable request − and they happily gifted him toy octopuses as presents. Never, however, did they think owning a pet octopus was a dream they could make a reality.

That is, until last summer, when Clifford drove by an aquarium store and wondered... is it possible to keep an octopus as a pet? He'd never seriously looked into it. So he made a call. Turns out, it is.

At dinner that night, Clifford told his family what he'd learned, thinking it'd be a fun, but innocuous, conversation starter. Cal instantly burst into tears.

"His ultimate dream, his cloud nine, the greatest thing that could ever possibly happen in one's life had just become a possibility, and he just broke down," Clifford recalls. "My friends and family, of course, all, as you probably imagine, said to me, 'Well, now you have to get it for him. You can't just dangle that in front of him and then turn around and just flatline that dream.' "

Cameron Clifford pictured with his wife and their sons, from left to right, Cal and Lyle.
Cameron Clifford pictured with his wife and their sons, from left to right, Cal and Lyle.

So Clifford spent the next several weeks documenting his and his son's preparation for their pet octopus, whom they named Terrance. That meant researching, ordering and installing a proper saltwater tank and water cycling system in their home, as well as making sure they had access to an octopus' food supply. Clifford says he bought most of the materials secondhand on Facebook Marketplace and expected the whole ordeal to cost around $600 to $700.

He was wrong.

Terrance arrived and was bigger than expected − which meant they needed a bigger tank. When Terrance's 50 surprise babies arrived, "all bets were off," Clifford says, and he spent $300 a week to overnight food for the hatchlings. Not to mention the water damage to his house, which he says is still under repair.

All in all, Clifford estimates he's spent around $3,000 to $4,000 on octopuses over the past year. "Do not get a pet octopus unless you're ready to lose sleep and your kids' college fund simultaneously," he jokes.

TikTok saga is not just about an octopus and her eggs. It's about a father and his son.

About two months after her arrival, Terrance laid eggs, signaling the end of her lifespan. As Clifford notes on TikTok, female bimac octopuses usually live one-to-two years. When they lay eggs, they stop eating or taking care of themselves, devoting the rest of their lives to protecting their den until their eggs hatch.

Experts assured Clifford that Terrence's eggs couldn't be fertilized, meaning they'd never hatch. Clifford and his family handfed Terrence as she protected her perceived young, letting her live out her final purpose according to nature, even if it was all in vain.

But then to Clifford's shock, all 50 of Terrence's eggs hatched.

Clifford had to rethink his tank situation when Terrance's surprise 50 hatchlings arrived.
Clifford had to rethink his tank situation when Terrance's surprise 50 hatchlings arrived.

Clifford called local aquariums and research facilities begging them to take the babies. They all declined. So he did the next logical thing: He resorted to TikTok, sharing the videos he'd only previously posted for friends and family on his private Instagram.

His account exploded in popularity, and now he's in communication with major aquariums, universities and research facilities across the country interested in taking the octopuses off his hands. He's also solicited the internet for names for the babies − the punnier, the better. His favorite? InverteBrett.

The experience has had its fair share of challenges, he says, but seeing the joy it's brought to Cal, as well as his 6-year-old son Lyle, has been worth it. It's also been special to see the internet − a notoriously divisive space − rally in near unanimous support for him and his family as they navigate the ups and downs of their octopus journey.

"As far as regrets, there's so many," he says. "I wish I wouldn't have opened that valve that way and dumped all that dirty seawater onto my kids' white carpet. That's certainly a regret. But overall, no, it's been an absolutely fun experience, not just for me, but also for my kids."

What's next for the octo-dad?

Clifford says the baby octopuses haven't been rehomed yet and are staying with "Dr. Tim," a family friend and reptile scientist. Usually only 1-5% of bimac babies survive into adulthood, Clifford says; two months out from hatching, a staggering 50% of Terrance's babies are still alive: "Every scientist I speak to is always kind of astonished by that fact that we were able to get such a high yield in a kid's bathroom."

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Clifford says his ultimate goal is for his TikTok followers across the country to be able to visit Terrance's offspring at their local aquariums once the babies find their new homes.

"I think it would just be such a cool experience, if you had followed along with the account, (to) go to your state aquarium and see one of the babies − JaySea or BeyonSea or Swim Shady or Squid Cudi − in person," he says.

Terrance's legacy lives on.
Terrance's legacy lives on.

He also intends to go back to his normal life, which has been disrupted by going viral. Clifford and his wife have taken strides to shield their children from knowing just how famous their family has become online. But that's become more difficult now that news cameras have entered their house.

For Clifford, the wellbeing of his kids will always come first. It's something he and Terrance have in common.

"Of course, with this whole social media thing, it's like I'm now missing bedtime because I'm doing some interview. And that of course then becomes counterproductive if you're like, 'OK, well, I'm documenting how great of a dad I am, and now here I am not putting my kids to bed.' So I have to be careful with it as well," he says. "It's just been a little wilder than most of the experiences we have, but my son has absolutely loved this experience."

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And for those wondering: Yes, Terrence is, somehow, still alive.

"She's doing good. She is just living out the rest of her life in her tank by herself," Clifford says. "She will probably die in the next several weeks, although my assumptions of her have been wrong consistently."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: TikTok dad goes viral after son's pet octopus has 50 babies in home