After a recent encounter with an octopus while scuba diving with my smoking hot girlfriend, I became captivated with the animal.
This interest inspired a personal investigation of other cephalopods, until I came across the fascinating mimic octopus.
I’m still trying to learn how many species of mimic octopus exist. Mimic octopuses seem to be a clade of highly cryptic organisms for which several genera remain controversial due to puerile debates between researchers as to who discovered and named which species first…
But regardless of nomenclature, this group of octopuses is doted with remarkable plasticity in shape and color. Mimic octopuses are some of the few animals that have the gift of facultative mimicry (that is the ability to switch from mimic colors to none mimic colors at will), along with one species of squid (Hanlon & Messenger 1996), and one reef fish species (Cheney et al. 2007). The mimic octopus rarely makes use of the same strategy, which is crypsis, as octopuses. While other octopuses employ their amazing shape shifting abilities and complex fluctuating skin pigment to camouflage themselves and remain as low key as possible to predators and prey, the mimic octopus uses the counter intuitive tactic of being conspicuous to it’s predators (Huffard et al. 2010). Indeed, it will alter its shape to resemble an entire repertoire of toxic animals in order to dissuade the voracious appetite of visual predators. The mimic’s deceptive appearance is further reinforced by the octopus’s movements, which only lend more credibility to its impersonation. It has been documented to mimic shape and motion of flatfish, lionfish, and sea snakes, and is speculated to mimic even anemones along with other invertebrates (Norman et al. 2001).
Although I still have a long ways to go in my undergraduate degree, I feel that the mimic octopus would be an amazing candidate to pursue for my graduate studies as a prime model of müllerian mimicry.
- Charley Westbrook
Cheney KL, Grutter AS, Marshall J. 2008. Facultative mimicry: cues for colour change and colour accuracy in a coral reef fish. Proc R Soc Lond. 275: 117-122
Hanlon RT, Messenger JB. 1996. Cephalopod behavior. Cambridge (UK): Cambridge University Press.
Huffard CL, Saarman N, Hamilton H, Simison WB, 2010. The evolution of conspicuous facultative mimicry in octopuses: an example of secondary adaptation? Biological Journal of the Linnean Society. 101: 68-77.
Norman MD, Finn J, Tregenza T. 2001. Dynamic mimicry in an Indo-Mayalan octopus. Proc R Soc Lond. 268: 1755-1758.