To Mimic or Not to Mimic

To Mimic or Not to Mimic

So now that we are all clear on telling the difference between the wonderpus and the mimic octopus, I’d like to delve further into the realm of the mimic.

There are actually three species in the mimic family: the mimic, the brown mimic and the white-v octopus. The latter two look very alike and don’t put on much of a show, so it is the mimic that grabs most of the attention. All three species have white dots going down the length of each arm as well as a white v-shaped marking on the body towards the rear.

The behavioral trait that has brought the mimic octopus so much attention is the ability to copycat other marine creatures. I don’t dispute that they do this, but in my opinion, this attention is overblown. All octopus species can change their colour and shape in incredible ways and many, if not most, species mimic other creatures as a means of defense.

Above is a brown mimic, a white-v (also called long-arm octopus), and then the last two shots are of a mimic showing different hues.

The best episode of mimicry I have witnessed by an octopus was actually done by a coconut octopus, copying a hermit crab, complete with the shell entrance being off-centre and the shell being larger at one end. It certainly fooled me until I got too close and the octo realized that his “walking on tip-toes hermit crab” impression wasn’t working, so it abandoned the valiant and memorable effort, “breaking character” and instantly reverting to being a coconut octopus sitting on the substrate in a lump. I had been fooled, but was simply swimming in that direction, otherwise I would never have thought otherwise. I recounted the experience to Crissy Huffard, a friend who is an octopus researcher from Berkeley and she one-upped me, reporting seeing an octopus in Fiji doing the same, but adding stripes on the legs to enhance the disguise. So perhaps the mimic just has a better press agent than his bretheren.

Personally, I feel that a wonderpus puts on a better show than a mimic as they are usually less shy. But the mimic does copy specific creatures more clearly. I have seen a mimic, all alone and not under any attention or threat, sit atop a sand mound with the outer half of each arm pointed to the surface, possibly copying a sand anemone. A sea snake impression is more obvious and understandable. Bobbing a head from a hole like a mantis shrimp along with looking like a small cuttlefish, or “being” a jellyfish up in the water column are other obvious impressions. It is natural for many creatures under threat to puff themselves up and splay their arms in order to appear larger than they are.

For this reason, the supposed lionfish impression is one I take with a grain of salt because it is simply far too big to be confused with a lionfish, but that is just my opinion. The popular flatfish impression is one I feel is simply hydrodynamics – the fastest way across the bottom while conserving the most valuable energy. Flounders often attack octos and often tag along with them in order to try and steal a meal from them. I don’t see the benefit in looking like one. All sand octopus “fly” in the same manner over the substrate if threatened or in a hurry. That is how I feel, but I’ve seen mimics do very strange things that I can’t explain, so much remains in the eye of the beholder.

Tripadvisor Reviews:

What Every Dive Resort Should Strive to Be

"This was a phenomenal dive trip and we will be back here on our next visit to Lembeh. Thanks again to Bruce, Fung, and all of the wonderful staff who made our vacation a fantastic one!"

Scallywag81 on TripAdvisor

Three times is not enough...

"In the 20+ years that we've been diving, in about the same number of different countries, there was only one other place where we went back a second time. But Black Sand? Oh we just couldn't stay away!"

Katrien V on TripAdvisor

Idyllic Resort Set in Middle of Lembeh’s Best Diving

"Bruce was often present at meal time, and he is a wealth of knowledge about all things diving, especially Lembeh and critter identification. We really enjoyed our discussions with him. The dive staff was outstanding."

Doug F on TripAdvisor

Missing it Already and Can't Wait to Return!

"We visited Black Sand for the second time because we could not have imagined having better hosts than Bruce and Fung as well the number and variety of great dive sites."

Brown C on TripAdvisor

Address:

Black Sand Dive Retreat

Kel. Kasawari, Bitung
Lembeh Strait
North Sulawesi, Indonesia
Tel:
+62 (0)821-9969-5992
+62 (0)811-433-1106
info@blacksanddive.com

Odd Frogfish of Lembeh

Odd Frogfish of Lembeh

Since Lembeh Strait is considered “The Frogfish Capital of the World”, anyone who dives here can expect to see plenty of the popular critter. Differentiating between the various species can be tricky though, especially the smaller ones. Juveniles can be quite different from the adult form of some types. Add to this the wide variety of colours and patterns within many frogfish species and confusion can reign supreme.

In this blog entry I am including some pictures of odd frogfish species along with my thoughts on what species they are. Feedback and input is welcome.

These first four pictures are of what I believe to be a single species. I had found them rarely and when I had they proved very difficult to photograph, being quite shy. They all had long delicate “toes”, an almost-invisible illicium and esca, blotches of colour on the body, and usually some red markings on the mouth, like badly-applied lipstick. It didn’t seem to clearly fit the existing description of any Antennarius I had found in any ID book. An odd frog indeed. But on further sightings, I think I’ve now narrowed it down.

When our friends John and Donna Todt were with us on their last visit, their presence jogged my memory in regards to these little froggies. I was with them on an eventful night dive at TK3 and down at ~14 meters we found three little frogfish in one group: a pregnant female and two suitors. One was of solid colour, but the other two, pictured here, showed more markings, being out in the open, more-or-less. On these three one can see the pale-edged spot at the base of the dorsal fin, which would identify them as A. mummifer, or spotfin frogfish. I hope that I’m right and the mystery has been solved. They often get confused with the next species I’ll approach.

The above pictures are of one of the usual suspects, the freckled frogfish a.k.a. the scarlet frogfish, or in the language of the Catholic Church, Antennarius coccineus. We find them often, mostly by night. They can be quite shy and hard to photograph. You’ll see that they have a short illicium (“fishing pole”) with a small white pom-pom esca (“lure”). They can be a range of colours, but are most often seen showing dull, often grey, colouration. Telling them apart from the Antennarius mummifer, also known as the spotfin frogfish can be a challenge, but the spotfin should have a dark, pale-edged spot at the base of the dorsal fin. It should also have a longer illicium, tipped with a cluster of filaments, but in my experience, the esca on the A. mummifer is difficult to see clearly. The orange and black pair below were in less than two meters of water on our House Reef for a few months, directly off our Dive Centre steps!.

The right two pictures are of what we call an ocellated frogfish and to my knowledge it has yet to be officially described. They are always small; the largest specimen I ever encountered was at Jahir and measured an approximate whopping 1.5 inches! They are usually black, but we have seen a few in shades of brown, like one of the pair in the middle shot. Their giveaway is the orange-ringed spot on the dorsal fin. They sometimes have two of these spots, but most often only one, with the orange ranging from subtle to flaming. We see them every two months or so, which leads me to believe that they are not rare, just very good at hiding, as they are almost never spotted out in plain sight.

The picture above is another matter entirely and brings back vivid memories. It was taken at TK3 and escaped my immediate notice as at the same time there was an incredible amount of amazing critters in the area. But we recently received a picture from two of our “regulars” who know how to find and photograph critters very well: Angelika Woelke & Ingo Buss. Their fine shot was taken in the Philippines, of a lovely little frogfish they needed identified. I settled on Histiophtyne cryptacanthus / cryptic frogfish and replied that I had never seen one. But on ruminating about it, my memory took me back to this interesting froggie and I dug through my archives to unearth this happy snap. As it was within a few meters of three different octopi (mototi, mimic and wonderpus) out and about, along with a pair of thorny seahorses in sight, my focus was not concentrated, so I only snapped off two shots. But as it stands, if it is indeed a cryptic frogfish, it is probably the only one I’ve ever encountered. But since the head doesn’t slope back smoothly, I feel that it’s probably something else.

This brings me to the end of this blog entry. I pledge to build some momentum by adding my observations and photos more frequently, so please watch this space. Also feel free to look us up on our BSDR Facebook page and add your two cents’ worth in regards whatever Fung posts there along with my blog posts.

Onwards and Upwards… Bruce

Tripadvisor Reviews:

What Every Dive Resort Should Strive to Be

"This was a phenomenal dive trip and we will be back here on our next visit to Lembeh. Thanks again to Bruce, Fung, and all of the wonderful staff who made our vacation a fantastic one!"

Scallywag81 on TripAdvisor

Three times is not enough...

"In the 20+ years that we've been diving, in about the same number of different countries, there was only one other place where we went back a second time. But Black Sand? Oh we just couldn't stay away!"

Katrien V on TripAdvisor

Idyllic Resort Set in Middle of Lembeh’s Best Diving

"Bruce was often present at meal time, and he is a wealth of knowledge about all things diving, especially Lembeh and critter identification. We really enjoyed our discussions with him. The dive staff was outstanding."

Doug F on TripAdvisor

Missing it Already and Can't Wait to Return!

"We visited Black Sand for the second time because we could not have imagined having better hosts than Bruce and Fung as well the number and variety of great dive sites."

Brown C on TripAdvisor

Address:

Black Sand Dive Retreat

Kel. Kasawari, Bitung
Lembeh Strait
North Sulawesi, Indonesia
Tel:
+62 (0)821-9969-5992
+62 (0)811-433-1106
info@blacksanddive.com

Mimic or Wonderpus?

Mimic or Wonderpus?

So, how do you tell the difference between a mimic and a wonderpus? Let’s try to make this clear.

I can understand the confusion telling a mimic from a wonderpus. They are alike. But if you see them side by side, the differences are obvious. Having our guests ask what’s the difference is something I hear a lot of. Seeing mistaken identity on TV and elsewhere does bother me though. Just last week I saw a report on TV about mimic octopus. Great, but they showed footage of wonderpus, white-v and brown mimic and lumped them all under mimic octopus. It wasn’t the first time.

I also recall a visit I made years ago to the Singapore Aquarium, where I saw a forlorn wonderpus in a tiny tank, labeled as a mimic, accompanied by a video of a bona fide mimic.

I tried to tell some of the staff about the misidentification, but they weren’t interested in any input and told me to send an email.

The row of pictures above are all mimics. The mimic has a white edge along the arms, while the wonderpus does not. The mimic has white dots going down the length of each arm and a white “v” marking on the body (as does the white-v and the brown mimic, which are in the mimic family). On a wonderpus the pattern of the white markings on the body differ with each individual.

The stripes on the mimic are not defined, while the stripes on a wonderpus are clear-cut. The mimic tends to be larger and more muscular compared to the wonderpus. A mimic can make its stripes disappear and look brown or mottled, while a wonderpus can change its colour tone from yellow / orange through to dark brown / black, but the stripes will always be apparent. If you find a striped octopus eating at a den, it should be a mimic.

Mimics catch their prey and take it back to a hole in the sand to eat, while wonderpus usually eat on the go, though if the hunting is good, they can bring some food back home, tucked into the body like chipmunks tuck acorns in their cheeks. I have sometimes found active mimic holes by the presence of fire worms as they try to hang around in wait and steal food from mimics by bothering them when the octopus is simply trying to enjoy their meal at the relative safety of its home entrance. Mimics often grab crabs too large to get down their hole, so must spend time dismembering their meal above the surface, while I have yet to see a wonderpus unable to get underground, even carrying food.

The top row of pics are all wonderpus. Starting at the bottom-left is the white-v octo and then a web-casting brown mimic. Then a mimic and lastly a young wonderpus.

So I hope that this helps when you next see a striped octopus and are not sure what it is.

Here endeth the the lesson.

Tripadvisor Reviews:

What Every Dive Resort Should Strive to Be

"This was a phenomenal dive trip and we will be back here on our next visit to Lembeh. Thanks again to Bruce, Fung, and all of the wonderful staff who made our vacation a fantastic one!"

Scallywag81 on TripAdvisor

Three times is not enough...

"In the 20+ years that we've been diving, in about the same number of different countries, there was only one other place where we went back a second time. But Black Sand? Oh we just couldn't stay away!"

Katrien V on TripAdvisor

Idyllic Resort Set in Middle of Lembeh’s Best Diving

"Bruce was often present at meal time, and he is a wealth of knowledge about all things diving, especially Lembeh and critter identification. We really enjoyed our discussions with him. The dive staff was outstanding."

Doug F on TripAdvisor

Missing it Already and Can't Wait to Return!

"We visited Black Sand for the second time because we could not have imagined having better hosts than Bruce and Fung as well the number and variety of great dive sites."

Brown C on TripAdvisor

Address:

Black Sand Dive Retreat

Kel. Kasawari, Bitung
Lembeh Strait
North Sulawesi, Indonesia
Tel:
+62 (0)821-9969-5992
+62 (0)811-433-1106
info@blacksanddive.com