The mimic octopus is known for its ability to imitate objects or animals from its surroundings like flounder, jelly fish, sting ray, sea snake, lionfish or just a rock/coral.
Most of the time they mimic something we cannot really interpret but it’s always fun to discuss after a dive what animal it wanted to represent. Like this dancing creature for example. What do you think it is?
How does the mimicking work?
To mimic other creatures the mimic octopus changes its skin color and texture. The color change is possible through special pigment containing cells, the cromatophores. These specialized cells are used by many other animals including chameleons.
In addition to the color changes the mimic octopus adapts swimming movement, speed, position in the water column and body shape. Quite clever it seems. It would be great to know if they are born with this ability or if they have to learn it first.
Unique in the animal kingdom
Many marine animals use similar behavior known as mimicry to pretend to be bigger, poisonous or otherwise dangerous. However, the mimic octopus is the only one with the capability to imitate such a wide range of animals and objects. It is believed that this clever creature can mimic up to 15 different animals.
Why this effort?
Most octopi live on reefs never too far from a place to hide. While the habitat of the mimic octopus is mucky sea bed. Burying itself in the ground is the only shelter available in this surrounding. The coconut octopus might not agree but that is a different story.
It is believed that in order to move more freely above ground it learned to mimic many different creatures. Doing this it is safe from a wide range of predators. The mimic octopus can adapt the kind of animal it pretends to be depending on the type of predator. All octopi are very clever, but it is hard to say if this behavior is based on instinct or on purpose.
Where to find it?
The mimic octopus has only been discovered in 1998 in Sulawesi, Indonesia on mucky ground in a river mouth. That’s where it can be found – on muddy floors. This is most possibly the reason that it wasn’t discovered earlier and only became more popular among divers lately. The mucky grounds haven’t been explored much before the 90ies and muck diving only became popular some years back.
Have you ever seen a mimic octopus? What was it mimicking?
Mimic Octopuses, Thaumoctopus mimicus (2013). In MarineBio Conservation Society. Retrieved July 26, 2016, from http://marinebio.org/species.asp?id=260
Mimic Octopus (2016). In Wikipedia. Retrieved July 26, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mimic_octopus