Weird Wildlife Wednesday: The Master of Disguise
Well it isn’t a sole fish, a lion fish, or a sea snake (or a turtle)…
Meet the mimic octopus.
Species: T. mimicus
The name reveals the most distinguishing feature. Animal mimicry is an oft-seen survival tactic in animals, but this octopus takes it to a whole new level in that it can imitate multiple toxic marine species to ward off potential predators.
Observed imitations include:
Sole Fish – The octopus pulls all of its limbs together forming a flat fish-like shape and skims along the ocean floor like the flat sole fish.
Lion Fish – Swimming just above the ocean floor, the octopus spreads its arms apart and lets them trail behind as it swims to resemble the fan-like fins of the lion fish.
Sea Snake – After taking on a yellow and black banded appearance by changing color the octopus draws itself into a hole leaving just two limbs outside in opposition to look like two snakes.
There may be more animals that T. mimicus mimics, such as mantis shrimp, jellyfish, anemones and stingrays, but due to the subjectivity of impersonation interpretations, the researchers are hesitant to classify any of these as known behaviors.
According to an article in National Geographic, researchers think the discovery of this creature was delayed due to the boring nature of its environment in that the plain, muddy habitat is less appealing to divers than vivid coral reefs. The amazing disguise ability may have derived from the environment as well; with no place to hide along the sandy sea floor, mimicking dangerous animals is one of the few good survival options.
Initially discovered in Indonesia, the mimic octopus has since been found on the Great Barrier Reef of the coast of Australia.
Octopuses are likely one of the most intelligent invertebrate species on the planet. They can change color to blend in with their surroundings or even predict the outcome of World Cup matches, but the mimic octopus may be the cleverest of them all.
And just for fun, here is a video of their rather kinky (and tangly) mating behavior.
Image Credits: (left) “Mimic Octopus 5” by Steve Childs – Flickr: Mimic Octopus. (right) By prilfish (Flickr: Mimic Octopus) via Wikimedia Commons