Fish mimics octopus that mimics fish

January 4, 2012
This photo shows the jawfish in association with the mimic octopus -- a case of a fish mimicking an octopus that mimics fish. Credit: Godehard Kopp

Nature's game of intimidation and imitation comes full circle in the waters of Indonesia, where scientists have recorded for the first time an association between the black-marble jawfish (Stalix cf. histrio) and the mimic octopus (Thaumoctopus mimicus).

Undescribed by scientists until 1998, the talented mimic octopus is known to impersonate toxic , , and even by creatively configuring its limbs, adopting characteristic undulating movements, and displaying bold brown-and-white . Thanks to these brazen habits, it can swim in the open with relatively little fear of predators.

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Taken in Indonesia in July 2011, this video records for the first time a jawfish in association with a mimic octopus -- a case of a fish mimicking an octopus that mimics fish. Credit: Godehard Kopp

The jawfish, on the other hand, is a small and timid fish. It spends most of its adult life close to a sand burrow, where it will quickly retreat upon sighting a predator.

During a diving trip in Indonesia in July 2011, Godehard Kopp of the University of Gottingen, Germany, filmed an unexpected pairing between the two animals. Like a lackey clinging on to the big man on campus, the black-marble jawfish was seen closely following a mimic octopus as it moved across the sandy bottom. The jawfish had brown-and-white markings similar to the octopus, and was difficult to spot among the many arms. The octopus, for its part, did not seem to notice or care.

The mimic octopus is shown here mimicking a flatfish. Credit: Rich Ross

Kopp sent the video to Rich Ross and Luiz Rocha of the California Academy of Sciences, who identified the jawfish species. Since this association had not been recorded before, they published their observations online last month in the scientific journal . The authors surmise that the jawfish hitches a ride with the for protection, allowing it to venture away from its burrow to look for food—a case of "opportunistic mimicry."

"This is a unique case in the reefs not only because the model for the jawfish is a mimic itself, but also because this is the first case of a jawfish involved in mimicry," said Dr. Luiz Rocha, assistant curator of ichthyology at the California Academy of Sciences. "Unfortunately, reefs in the Coral Triangle area of southeast Asia are rapidly declining mostly due to harmful human activities, and we may lose species involved in unique interactions like this even before we get to know them."

Explore further: Octopus mimics flatfish and flaunts it (w/ Video)

More information: Rocha LA, Ross R, Kopp G. 2011. Opportunistic mimicry by a jawfish. Coral Reefs.

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1 / 5 (2) Jan 04, 2012
right.. so, logically... if we could look REALLY close there might be a tiny octupus disguised as the fish camouflaged with the octopus impersonating a fish..!

actually from the headline i was kind of anticipating a tentacled fish that actually MIMICKED an octupus mimicking a fish, rather than just being camouflaged like one. Bit disappointing really..
not rated yet Jan 04, 2012
So odd it would choose to mimic the octo when it could have mimicked anything that blends into it's locale.

Maybe it tags along for free table scraps ?
3.7 / 5 (3) Jan 05, 2012
How does the fish know it looks the octopus?
not rated yet Jan 05, 2012
Why doesn't the fish choose to mimic a great white or a man o war? Those are more deadly. Evolution is so stupid.
not rated yet Jan 06, 2012
Lighten up guys. The message here is not the simple comedy, but the tragedy in dramatic terms. If we lose these spp., then the other mutualistic associations that we haven't noticed may never come to our attention. This is a light turning on for some intrepid research to concentrate on why the Thaumoctopus is so right for the niche of the fish. What intrigues me is the length of time this association has gone on. Did these two evolve together from other ancestral types, or is this a brand new mimicry event. I study mimics and this is novel and could make us think about other species that have unexpected relationships. look at the ant guests that keep being discovered. How useful could some of this research be. No idea yet, but I'm staying plugged in!
not rated yet Jan 06, 2012
Fish mimics octopus that mimics fish
A sort of optical feedback could occur there
not rated yet Jan 07, 2012
How does the fish know it looks the octopus?

It doesn't. But all the others that didn't look like the octopus got noticed (and eaten). Natural selection at work.

Evolution isn't the targettted acquisition of a characteristic. It is the weeding out of those individuals (and their random mutations) who are less fit.

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