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What Is a Mimic Octopus?

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  • Written By: Jacob Queen
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 27 August 2014
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The mimic octopus is an invertebrate creature, living mostly around Indonesia and Malaysia, and primarily making its home in various estuaries. The animals are about 2 feet (61 cm) long, and their base color is an off-white shade with small brown stripes. These creatures are most famous for their ability to disguise themselves as various different animals, using their natural talent for contortion and their ability change color. Most experts believe they do this primarily to protect themselves from dangerous animals, but some are skeptical about the common interpretations of this behavior. The mimic octopus was not discovered until the 1990s, and they have been studied quite aggressively since then, but there are still many aspects of their lives that have not been fully documented.

In many ways, the mimic octopus is generally rather typical compared to other octopi. It is a predatory animal, surviving mostly on different kinds of fish and various crustaceans. Its method of hunting is to ambush or forage in the sand. The animals only breed once in their lives, and die shortly thereafter, only living for about nine months overall. Like other octopi, their main method of locomotion is basically jet propulsion using water.

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All octopi have soft bodies, and most can also change colors, usually as a way to hide themselves by camouflaging with surfaces. They're also known to be fairly intelligent animals, and some people consider them to be more intelligent than other invertebrates because of their ability to manipulate objects with their tentacles. For the mimic octopus, all these abilities that are common to many octopi seem to come together and work in concert, creating special advantages.

Their soft bodies allow them to bend themselves into many different shapes, or even drastically change textures on their skin surface. The fact that they have tentacles helps with this process because the appendages can be organized in different ways to create a variety of shapes. Their ability to change colors generally adds a touch of realism to the various impersonations, and in the area of intelligence, there is quite a bit of evidence that these creatures consciously or unconsciously choose particular forms as a way to trick different species they may encounter, perhaps even making very specific judgments on a minute-to-minute basis depending on environmental factors and other things.

There is a lot of debate in scientific circles about the actual reasons for the creature's transformative abilities, and some scientists don't even think the animals are trying to mimic things at all. So far, most evidence suggests that they are primarily using poisonous species, like sea snakes, flat fish, and lion fish, as a way to frighten away potential predators. There is also some evidence of them doing impersonations as a way to attract certain prey animals. Overall, about 15 separate impersonations have been identified, but scientists aren't absolutely sure about the reasons for many of them. Experts who fall into the skeptical camp don't necessarily have a reason for the seeming transformations, but they don't believe the activity is intentional mimicry.

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