Octopuses are one of the most amazing and intelligent sea creatures in our oceans. They are well known for their instantaneous ability to camouflage and change the colors, patterns, and textures of their skin with their surroundings. They are also fast swimmers and jet forward by expelling water through their mantle. However, some octopus species have been documented to do more than just camouflage and swim fast. Species such as Thaumoctopus mimicus have been documented to mimic flatfish found in their surrounding habitat. Macrotritopus defilippi is another species that is known to perform mimicry. It is a smaller octopus that lives in open sandy habitats that requires mimicry when moving to avoid predation and increase their protection as much as possible. Octopus can easily camouflage when stationary but their identity is given away when they move.
In 2005, a team of divers searched for and recorded M. defilippi in their sandy near-shore habitats off the coast of Saba in the Netherlands Antilles. From the footage that they gathered, they studied the swimming behavior and coloration of M. defilippi in comparison to that of the local flatfish, Bothus lunatus, found in the same habitat. In conclusion to their field work, they found that the swimming style and posture were distinctive and similar. Both species displayed contour swimming in which they mostly swam along the sand waves on the ground. The eyes of the octopus were also observed to be in the same approximate position as the eyes of B. lumatus. Although the flatfish were found to swim 3-4 cm/s faster than the octopus, both would swim in short bursts that were interspersed with motionless camouflage. Mimicry is an example of an evolved tactic among cephalopods to achieve camouflage while moving. I always knew octopuses were top achievers in camouflage, but I never really thought of them as mimickers until now. Shows how smart they really are!
-by Kristi Kim
Hanlon, R. T., Watson, A. C., & Barbosa, A. (2009). A “Mimic Octopus” in the Atlantic: Flatfish Mimicry and Camouflage by Macrotritopus defilippi. Biological Bulletin, 218:1, 15-24. http://www.biolbull.org/content/218/1/15.full#ref-list-1