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Life Imitates Life:The Mysterious Mimic Octopus

While persons with dissociative disorders, or multiple personalities, have been known to have as many as 100 personalities, they have not been known to morph into totally different creatures -- except in the movies, of course. But one cephalopod, the Indo-Malayan octopus, totally transforms itself into at least 15 different sea animals. So far, at least, the Indo-Malayan octopus is the ultimate biomimic -- life imitating life.

Here is the Indo Malayan octopus in its natural state, sitting on a burrow of sand...

 

Photographs by M. Norman and R. SteenePhotographs by M. Norman and R. Steene

 

Some animals, particularly certain species of birds and fish, are known to change colors to attract mates or to camouflage themselves to protect against predators. The Indo-Malayan octopus, first identified in 1998, has not had many years under man's proverbial microscope, so much about how the octopus developed his many skins is not known. But in the meantime, it's fascinating to study.

First observed by Mark Norman, Julian Finn, and Tom Tregenza on research dives in Indonesia, these unusual mimics were observed in many disguises during a 24 hour period. The researchers photographed the octopus in many phases, as the photos below will show.

Here the octopus is shown foraging for food, using the tips of its arms to probe down holes and the flared web-like part of their arms to trap anything trying to escape from the holes... almost like digging finger tips at the end of clasping hands.

 

Photographs by M. Norman and R. SteenePhotographs by M. Norman and R. Steene

 

When moving, the Indo-Malayan octopus draws its arms together into a leaf shape.

 

Photographs by M. Norman and R. SteenePhotographs by M. Norman and R. Steene

 

In the next photo, the octopus seems to mimic a particular kind of sole fish found abundantly in the same waters.

 

Photographs by M. Norman and R. SteenePhotographs by M. Norman and R. Steene

 

Here, the mimic octopus is swimming like a lion fish...

 

Photographs by M. Norman and R. SteenePhotographs by M. Norman and R. Steene

 

... sometimes with its "poisonous" spines flared, as below. (In the lion fish those spines are poisonous; it is not suspected that they are poisonous in the octopus, only that the octopus is mimicking the appearance and movements of the lion fish for protective purposes.)

 

Photographs by M. Norman and R. SteenePhotographs by M. Norman and R. Steene

 

In the next two photos the octopus is mimicking a banded sea-snake.

 

Photographs by M. Norman and R. SteenePhotographs by M. Norman and R. Steene

 

Photographs by M. Norman and R. SteenePhotographs by M. Norman and R. Steene

 

Mark Norman and his fellow researchers have included some short videos of their octopus subjects in their study. Here is one submitted to YouTube by member Marcelnad that is a bit longer.

 

 

There are two very striking observances made of this sea character, the Indo-Malayan octopus. One is that some of the 15 species of sea life are likely never to have been observed by the octopus, and the other is that when facing a predator, the octopus will become that predator's most fearful predator. How does the octopus know how to become something that it has never observed? How does it know what is most feared by its own predator?

The answers are not known yet. What is know is that the Indo-Malayan octopus will likely be a subject of study for a long time. What can technology learn from the observing the mysterious mimic octopus?

 

sources: Dynamic Mimicry In an Indo-Malayan octopus, Advanced Aquarist's Online Magazine

Comments
Feb 23, 2009
by Anonymous

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