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Fish mimics octopus that mimics fish

Jan. 5, 2012 at 7:51 PM   |   Comments

SAN FRANCISCO, Jan. 5 (UPI) -- A researcher has captured video in Indonesia of a fish mimicking an octopus known for mimicking other fish, in a circular case of copycat.

The mimic octopus, Thaumoctopus mimicus, can change its shape and modify its movements and color to impersonate toxic lionfish, flatfish and even sea snakes, allowing it to swim in the open with relatively little fear of predators.

The other actor in the researcher's video, known as a jawfish, is a small timid fish that almost never ventures out of a burrow it digs in the sand. During a diving trip in Indonesia in July, researcher Godehard Kopp of the University of Gottingen in Germany filmed an unexpected partnership between the pair of animals, the Christian Science Monitor reported Thursday.

A black-marble jawfish closely tagged behind the octopus as it moved across the sandy seafloor, its brown-and-white markings similar to marking on the octopus, making it difficult to spot among the octopus' arms.

"It's a pretty unique observation of mimicry -- most of the time, a mimicking animal doesn't actually follow the model it is mimicking," researcher Luiz Rocha, an ichthyologist at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, said. "But the mimicry wouldn't work otherwise for this jawfish.

"The jawfish found a way to get around in the open and not get eaten by anything else," Rocha said. "It's not a good swimmer, so any grouper or snapper or predatory fish would easily grab it otherwise."

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