Whether you are a first timer or have been here numerous times before, an encounter with a Mimic Octopus in Lembeh is bound to enchant and fascinate you! The Mimic Octopus was named after its unique ability to imitate venomous animals, providing it with some semblance of defense in an otherwise soft and tasty, defenseless body. Discovered only 15 years ago, the Mimic Octopus created quite a stir in the scientific community for being the first of its kind to go beyond traditional camouflage as a form of defense.
What is the Mimic Octopus imitating?
Instead of relying on its perfect ability to blend in with its surroundings, a threatened Mimic Octopus takes on the appearance of a choice venomous animal from the area. For example, a large predator may cause the Mimic Octopus to flare its arms and legs in a display much resembling a Lionfish, which is widely avoided by predators due to its long and venomous spines. A smaller threat, such as the annoyingly territorial Damselfish, may cause the Mimic Octopus to slip into a nearby hole and extend only two of its banded arms. These two arms highly resemble one of the Damselfish’s main predators and one of the most venomous animals in the Indo Pacific: the Banded Sea Snake. The third and most common “mimic” that divers encounter is that of a flatfish. As the Mimic Octopus pulls its banded legs together and undulates across the reef it is attempting to look like the Banded Sole; one of the few flatfishes that has venomous spines.
How do you know it’s a Mimic?
The Mimic Octopus looks nearly identical to another octopus that is on every guest’s wish list: the Wonderpus Octopus. The two share a very similar color pattern; each arm is ringed in brown and white. The easiest identifying feature on the Mimic Octopus is the white band that outlines the entire animal (see photo), and the fact that the underside of each arm is white. In comparison, there is no disruption to the rings on the Wonderpus’ arms (the underside of each arm is ringed as well), and no white band runs the length of the animal. When you know this distinction, correctly identifying the Octopus you are watching becomes much easier.
photo credit: Dorin Mantoiu (guest)