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article imageAmazing octopus can imitate toxic fish to deceive predators

By Igor I. Solar     Sep 1, 2010 in Science
A species of octopus native of Indonesia can successfully impersonate toxic aquatic animals by assuming their appearance which results in keeping potential predators away.
This talented species of octopus called Thaumoctopus mimicus is a true impersonator able of remarkable imitations by skilfully controlling each of its eight tentacles separately and acquiring the shape of other creatures in its habitat. So far it has been credited with the ability to “perform”, according to its convenience, the resemblance and behaviour of about fifteen different species, including sea snakes, lion-fish, giant crabs, sea shells, stingrays, soles, flounders, jellyfish, sea anemones, and mantis shrimp. It accomplishes the imitations by contorting its body and arms and by changing colour.
The gifted octopus has puzzled scientists since they have determined that the octopus doesn’t imitate based on the "imitated" being present, but seems to hold the appearance of the model in memory and is able to perform the imitation when appropriate. Most animals that the octopus mimics are toxic, thus its ability has been interpreted as a purely defensive strategy. This creature was discovered in 1998 in the bottom of a muddy bank off the coast of Sulawesi, Indonesia.
There are animals capable of adopting different appearance throughout their life cycle and others who have the ability to change color. But this is the first known animal able to impersonate and switch between different existing species. The study conducted by Christine L. Huffard, Conservation International Indonesia, and collaborators, was recently published in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society.
The researchers say they have not yet discovered all the capabilities of the octopus and expect to find imitations of other species in the studies being carried out. After several years of study, much remains unknown about the mimic octopus. Future research will focus on observing T. mimicus in the wild in Indonesia, so that scientists can assess the possible reasons and evolutionary relevance of its bold coloration and amazing mimic abilities, and better understand the costs and benefits of this strategy.
Octopuses are considered the most intelligent invertebrate animals. Scientists studying their behaviour claim that octopuses are capable of solving simple puzzles, learning, and remembering. Researchers have trained captive specimens to find their way through simple mazes and to distinguish simple shapes such as squares from crosses. They are able to unscrew lids from food jars and have been observed learning by watching the behaviour of other octopuses. Because of apparently being able to predict the outcome of sporting events, a famous octopus has even been credited with psychic competence. In the study led by Christine Huffard, the authors argue that “the dynamic array of costumes that the mimic octopus displays requires rapid decision making among multiple models based on environmental circumstances”.
More about Mimic octopus, Indonesia, Evolutionary mechanism
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