An octopus skilled in the art of mimicry has a mimic itself: the lack-marble jawfish. The aptly named mimic octopus swims through Indonesian waters in disguise, imitating toxic flatfish, lionfish, and sea snakes by creatively configuring its limbs, employing characteristic undulating movements, and displaying bold brown-and-white color patterns. The trickery likely helps protect the talented cephalopod from predators. And it seems the jawfish hitches a ride, blending in with the octopus’s deceptive color patterns and allowing the small, timid fish it to venture away from its sand burrow in search of food.
Researcher Godehard Kopp of Germany’s University of Gottingen captured the never-before-seen behavior on film during a diving trip in Indonesia in July.
"It's a pretty unique observation of mimicry—most of the time, a mimicking animal doesn't actually follow the model it is mimicking," Luiz Rocha, an ichthyologist at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco who coauthored a paper with Kopp in the December issue of the journal Coral Reefs, told LiveScience. "But the mimicry wouldn't work otherwise for this jawfish."
"Unfortunately, reefs in the Coral Triangle area of southeast Asia are rapidly declining mostly due to harmful human activities,” Rocha said, “and we may lose species involved in unique interactions like this even before we get to know them."
Luckily, thanks to Kopp's good eye and quick camera work, we get a glimpse at this incredible interaction.