The Mimic, Blue Ring & Blanket Octopuses

Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

The cephalopods (octopuses) are a diverse group of aquatic organisms. They have unique and effective defense mechanisms and forms of hunting. Read this lesson to learn about three of these octopus groups!

Introduction to Octopuses

The octopus is a type of cephalopod that is characterized by a head and eight arms that sometimes have suction cups to help the animal stay in place in the presence of water currents. Some of the neatest features that octopuses have are the variety of mechanisms different species use to both hunt and avoid predation. Some octopus species release ink when threatened, others change colors to camouflage in with their surrounding, and others can change color and shape to mimic more intimidating creatures. All of this, lurking beneath the ocean's surface - I think they are a pretty fascinating type of animal!

Let's take a look at three types of octopuses.

Mimic Octopus

The mimic octopus (Thaumoctopus mimicus) uses mimicry to avoid predation, as the name suggests. Adults reach 60 cm, or about two feet, in total length and are usually brown and white striped to mimic poisonous species, though they are not actually poisonous themselves. This species lives in muddy estuary waters and eats small crustaceans and fish.

The mimic octopus during its relaxed state.
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What makes the mimic octopus especially cool is how it uses camouflage to its benefit! This species is the only species known to change its body positioning and behavior (in addition to its color) when threatened. It usually mimics poisonous animals and is intelligent enough to identify which species it should mimic based on the looming predator. The mimic octopus changes color using pigment sacs called chromatophores; these allow mimic octopuses to change their coloring to adjust their camouflage as necessary. They have been observed mimicking sea snakes, lion fish, flat fish, and even jelly fish to avoid predation. With such an effective defense system, it's no surprise that cephalopods have larger brains than most other invertebrates.

When threatened, the mimic octopus imitates other organisms.
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Blue-ringed Octopus

The genus Hapalochlaena contains four species of blue-ringed octopuses. The most largest and common species is the lesser blue-ringed octopus. Adults in this genus are usually no larger than a golf ball, and they are usually brown, beige, or dark yellow in color. However, when they're threatened or alarmed, they turn a vivid yellow with bright blue rings (hence their name). They feed on small crustaceans and produce venom to help them hunt and use for self defense.

The blue ring octopus displays bright blue rings when threatened.
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Though they're among the most venomous animals in the world, blue-ringed octopuses are not naturally aggressive (whew!); usually, they will flatten their bodies and try to blend in to their surroundings, but they can bite when stepped on or provoked. If a human is bitten, the venom quickly causes paralysis and stops the respiratory system. There is no known antidote, but artificial respiration can be conducted until the venom wears off within about 24 hours.

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