New footage of an octopus and a fish shows a confusing game of copycat taking place, deep in the oceans around Indonesia.
Video shot by researcher Godehard Kopp of the University of Gottingen in Germany shows a ‘mimic octopus’ (Thaumoctopus mimicus) being accompanied by a tiny black-marble jawfish (Stalix histrio). The mimic octopus can alter its shape, movements and color to imitate toxic lionfish, flatfish and even sea snakes.
Here’s the neat bit: scientists believe the jawfish is hitching a camouflaged ride with the octopus to safely search for food, who is in turn mimicking the fish. They suggest the jawfish has learned it can blend in with its octopus chum to prevent predators attacking.
Sure enough, Kopp’s video (viewable here) shows the fish and octopus working in tandem, with the jawfish bobbing around the octopus’s legs. Even in a still photo (bottom shot), it’s not easy to spot. Essentially, the octopus is escorting the fish about.
Jawfish spend most of their lives hanging around sand burrows that they can quickly retreat to if a predator is lurking. Venturing out for food is dangerous, but not if you have an eight-legged bodyguard! Researcher Luiz Rocha, an ichthyologist at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, says:
“All jawfish are really specialized for living in burrows. They’re almost never found outside their burrows.”
Rocha told LiveScience that such mimickry is unusual in nature:
“It’s a pretty unique observation of mimicry — most of the time, a mimicking animal doesn’t actually follow the model it is mimicking. But the mimicry wouldn’t work otherwise for this jawfish.”
Rocha believes the jawfish evolved its brown-and-white coloration before it discovered the trick of using the mimic octopus as cover.