Saturday, December 15, 2007

Transformers of the Sea

We all know about how animals can camouflage themselves to hide themselves from predator and/or prey, but who has heard of an animal that will actually imitate other animals in their environment? Discovered in 1998, the Indonesian Mimic Octopus, Thaumoctopus mimicus has been found to impersonate several ocean dwellers. Preys to deep water carnivores, the Mimic Octopuses often take shape of more poisonous animals to deter these hunters; while on the opposite end of things, change shape to attract the prey that might normally be too quick for the octopi to catch. Like all octopi, the mimic octopus is very flexible and can contort itself well- well enough, in fact, to fool a crab into thinking it could be a possible mating partner. Shapes that the octopus has said to have been caught in include that of the sea snake, lionfish, flatfish, brittle star, giant crab, sea shell, stingray, jellyfish, sea anemone, and mantis shrimp.

These Octopi are found in the murky waters around the Indo-west Pacific Ocean and can grow up to two feet in length. They feed in many different ways. Firstly, it can catch prey with its arms and kill it with its beak. Second, it can suck up the insides of their prey after paralyzing them with a poison; third, it may dig into the holes of prey, taking up the food with its arms; and lastly, it can swirl small prey into its suckers, entrapping them. They are brown and white in color, but do have the ability to change in both color and texture. They have a large brain and great eyesight, but they are deaf.

The number of sea creatures that the octopus copycats is disputed somewhat as well as how they have come about this ability. Some think that over the years, only the good impersonator octopi have survived, leaving us the Mimic species; while other theories suggest that the mimicry is misinterpreted and is just part of their sexual selection.

After watching videos and seeing pictures, I can’t imagine how the imitations could not be done purposefully. I think the intelligence in the octopus is amazing. Imagine how much concentration it takes to dance and to be aware of where you are and how you are moving. This is what the mimic octopus can and must do (while swimming), and do a good enough job to fool predator and prey.