Invertebrate Paleontology

Why would an octopus want to disguise itself?
Answered by Discovery Channel
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    Discovery Channel

  1. Some animals imitate more dangerous animals to trick their predators into fearing them. Other animals camouflage themselves so that their predators don't notice them. The octopus is lucky enough to be able to pull off both methods of disguise. Even though octopuses might look scary to people, they just look tasty to predators such as sting rays and sharks.

    When an octopus senses danger, its masquerading skills kick into high gear. Chromatophores are sacs of yellow, red, brown and black pigments that cover an octopus's body. When an octopus contracts its muscles, the chromatophores help it change color and pattern. And when the octopus contracts certain muscles, it can change its skin to look like a craggy reef or a smooth ocean floor [source: Smithsonian National Zoological Park].

    The mimic octopus (Thaumoctopus mimicus) is the master of disguise in the octopus world. It lives near coastal reefs in open, shallow waters [source: Turner]. Because of its exposed habitat, the mimic octopus has to find a way to deter predators that doesn't involve swimming for cover. So it makes itself look like other sea creatures -- poisonous ones. The most common masks it wears are the sea snake and lionfish. To make itself look like a snake, the mimic octopus uses its chromatophores to change color and then sticks six legs into a hole. It stretches out the last two legs in either direction so they appear to be a snake. Lionfish have poisonous spines, so to imitate a lionfish, the mimic octopus flattens its head into the shape of a lionfish body and then sticks its tentacles out like spines.

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