The Wonderpus and Mimic Octopuses of Indonesia and Malaysia

Updated on August 9, 2017
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Linda Crampton is a writer and teacher with an honors degree in biology. She loves to study nature and write about animals and plants.

A wonderpus octopus
A wonderpus octopus | Source

Beautiful and Surprising Octopuses

The beautiful and amusingly named wonderpus octopus is a vividly patterned, long-armed creature that lives in the shallow ocean water around Indonesia and Malaysia. The animal is a popular photographic subject for divers and has the very apt scientific name of Wunderpus photogenicus.

The octopus is usually orange-brown or red-brown in color, with sharply defined white spots on its body and white bars on its arms. The colors and pattern become more dramatic when the animal is alarmed. Its “head” is branched. There's a small eye on each branch and a tall, vertical protuberance called a papilla above each eye.

The wonderpus octopus is often confused with the mimic octopus (Thaumoctopus mimicus). This animal lives in the same general area and has a somewhat similar pattern of white spots and bands on a darker background. The background color of a mimic octopus is often dark brown or black, while the wonderpus octopus generally has a light brown background tinged with orange or red. The mimic octopus has the amazing and almost instantaneous ability to change its color, skin texture, arrangement of the arms around the body, and style of movement in order to mimic other creatures.

The Wonderpus Octopus

The wonderpus octopus was officially recognized by scientists in 2006, while the mimic octopus was recognized in 1998. The ocean around Indonesia and Malaysia is proving to be very fertile ground for the discovery of new animals, some of which are spectacular.

The Body of an Octopus

Octopuses are invertebrates. Unlike most other invertebrates, they are intelligent creatures with a brain and a well developed nervous system. They also have excellent eyesight. Experiments have shown that at least some octopuses can learn and that some seem to like playing with objects. Sadly, they have very short lifespans—from six months in some species to just a few years in others.

Octopuses have soft bodies, although they do have a hard structure in their mouth called a beak. This looks quite similar to a parrot's beak. An octopus uses its beak to bite its prey. Its mouth contains a tongue-like structure called a radula which is covered by rasping denticles, or teeth.

An octopus's lack of hard, protective body parts could make it easy for predators such as large fish to attack it, so it needs camouflage techniques and the ability to move fast to protect itself. There is at least one advantage to having a soft body, though. It allows the animal to squeeze into tight spaces.

Another view of a wonderpus octopus
Another view of a wonderpus octopus | Source

Internal Organs and Chromatophores

The mantle of an octopus is a thick layer of skin and muscle which forms a bag-like structure that covers the organs. These organs include the three hearts, the digestive, excretory, and reproductive organs, and the gills, which are used for breathing. The mantle moves as water flows under its edge and over the gills, where oxygen is extracted from the water. The water then leaves the body through a tube called the siphon. An octopus can forcibly expel water out of the siphon. This action provides jet propulsion and enables the animal to move very rapidly.

Octopuses inject a toxin into their prey as they bite it. Researchers suspect that all octopuses are venomous. Most are not dangerous to humans, however. Octopuses can also release a cloud of thick, dark "ink" from their ink sac to confuse potential predators.

The skin of octopuses contains a very high density of cells called chromatophores, which contain pigments. The chromatophores are controlled by the nervous system. As the chromatophores expand and contract they enable octopuses to alter their color or (as in the wonderpus octopus) to brighten and subdue the colors that are already present.

Wonderpus Octopus Escaping From Danger


Octopuses of some species have been observed performing complicated courtship displays, which often involve color changes. During mating, the male uses a special arm called a hectocotylus to insert a sac of sperm into the female's mantle aperture. The eggs are fertilized inside the female's body and then laid. Some females glue their eggs to the wall of a den and care for them until they hatch. Others, such as the female wonderpus octopus, attach the eggs to an arm and carry them around until they are ready to release the youngsters.

Octopuses belong to the order Octopoda, which contains two suborders. The information about octopus biology given above applies to the suborder Incirrata, which contains animals with the familiar body form of an octopus. The suborder Cirrina contains octopuses with a slightly different body form and biology.

The Wonderpus Octopus

The wonderpus octopus has only recently been discovered by scientists. Since it doesn't live for long in captivity, there's still much that is unknown about its life. Its home is a burrow on the ocean floor. This may be a burrow dug by another animal or a burrow dug by the octopus. The animal emerges from its home to feed at dusk and at dawn. It moves by swimming or by using its arms to perform a walking motion over the ocean bottom.

The octopus is a predator and feeds on fish, crabs, and perhaps other animals as well. Two different methods of catching prey have been observed. The octopus sometimes moves over the top of a potential prey animal and expands the webs attached to its eight arms to form an "umbrella" over the unfortunate creature. It then pulls the prey towards its mouth with an arm and eats it. The octopus may also send one of its arms down into a hole like a probe, grabbing prey with the suckers on the underside of the arm. The octopus has the ability to regenerate parts of arms that are lost and can deliberately release these parts to distract a predator.

Two theories have been proposed to explain why the wonderpus octopus developed its dramatic and conspicuous appearance. One theory suggests that the octopus is mimicking dangerous banded animals like sea snakes and lionfish as a form of protection against predators. Another theory says that it's warning predators that it's toxic.

An interesting view of a mimic octopus
An interesting view of a mimic octopus | Source

The Mimic Octopus

The mimic octopus's ability to mimic other creatures is truly astounding, as shown in the videos below. So far it's been found to impersonate fifteen other animals, including fish, jellyfish, brittle stars, sea anemones, crabs, and shrimp. Furthermore, observations have shown that it chooses an appropriate animal to mimic in order to protect itself from a specific predator.

To mimic a poisonous flatfish, the octopus swims with its arms held together and streaming behind it and its body flattened. To mimic a toxic sea snake, it partially enters a burrow, leaving just two of its arms visible. It can swim in open water and change its movement style, suspending its arms in the water to resemble the dangerous fins of a lionfish. There are some claims that the wonderpus octopus also exhibits the latter two behaviors.

The mimic octopus can almost instanteously change its color and the texture of its skin to help make its impersonations effective. Some other octopuses can change color to merge with their background, but the mimic octopus is the first one known to mimic other creatures. Unlike the wonderpus octopus, the mimic octopus is active during the day, so its excellent ability to impersonate other animals is very helpful for its survival.

An Indonesian Mimic Octopus

Comparing the Mimic Octopus and the Wonderpus Octopus

Apart from its enhanced ability to change color and mimic other creatures, the behavior of the mimic octopus seems to be very similar to that of the wonderpus octopus. It eats the same types of animals and uses the same methods to catch its prey. In addition, the female attaches her fertilized eggs to her arms, just as the wonderpus octopus does.

It might seem that it should be easy to distinguish a wonderpus octopus from a mimic octopus by color. Color isn't a consistently reliable way to differentiate between the two animals, however. This is due to individual variability and the fact that the underwater appearance of the animals is affected by the type of illumination that's shining on them. The ability of the mimic octopus to change color can also make identification difficult.

There seems to be a lot of confusion when people try to distinguish one octopus from the other. Some of the observations that have been recorded about mimic octopus behavior may actually be observations of wonderpus octopus behavior and vice versa.

If the octopus is undergoing a dramatic color change in front of us we know that it’s a mimic octopus, but how else can we tell them apart, especially if a mimic octopus isn’t altering its color, texture, or pattern? Some methods are described in the table below.

Mimic Octopus Behavior

Distinguishing a Wonderpus Octopus From a Mimic Octopus

Wonderpus Octopus
Mimic Octopus
Usually active in the early morning and in the evening
Usually active during the day
Separation between dark and light areas of skin is distinct
Separation between dark and light areas of skin is less distinct
Often has a light brown and white coloration
Often has a very dark brown and white coloration
Rear edge of mantle has a white spot
Rear edge of mantle has a white U or V shape
Eyes are on long stalks
Eyes are on shorter stalks
No white border on arm at base of suckers
White border on arm at base of suckers

The wonderpus and mimic octopuses are fascinating animals. It will be very interesting to see what else researchers learn about them. Perhaps there are even more strange and wonderful creatures waiting to be discovered in the ocean near Indonesia and Malaysia.


  • "Wunderpus." Monterey Bay Aquarium. (accessed August 9, 2017).
  • Huffard, Christine L. et al. "Individually Unique Body Color Patterns in Octopus (Wunderpus photogenicus) Allow for Photoidentification." Plos One. (accessed August 9, 2017).
  • Martens, Camille. "The mimic octopus: a master of disguise." University of Northern British Columbia. (accessed August 9, 2017).
  • Alger, Sarah Jane. "The Mimic Octopus: Master of Disguise." Scitable by Nature Education. (accessed August 9, 2017).

© 2012 Linda Crampton


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    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Brainy Bunny! It's very nice to meet you. Yes, the abilities of these octopuses are amazing. I like all octopuses, but these two are especially interesting. Thanks for the comment.

    • Brainy Bunny profile image

      Brainy Bunny 6 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

      I generally find sea creatures pretty creepy, but that wonderpus is beautiful! I was all ready to dislike it, but seeing it in action in the video changed my mind. Wow. And the mimic is extraordinarily talented; I've never seen anything like it.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you, catsimmons. I appreciate your comment.

    • catsimmons profile image

      Catherine Simmons 6 years ago from Mission BC Canada

      Absolutely fascinating!!

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for the visit and the comment, QudsiaP1!

    • QudsiaP1 profile image

      QudsiaP1 6 years ago

      A wonderful presentation.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much for the vote and the share, Lesley! I agree, the mimic octopus's ability to mimic other creatures is amazing. Thanks for commenting. Best wishes to you, as well.

    • Movie Master profile image

      Movie Master 6 years ago from United Kingdom

      Hello Alicia, so many interesting facts here, I didn't realise the life span was so short for this octopus and the mimic octopus ability to mimic 15 other animals is fascinating!

      A wonderful hub thank you, voted up and shared.

      Best wishes Lesley

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for the votes, Prasetio. I think that these octopuses are wonderful, too. They have such interesting abilities! Have a nice day, my friend.

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 6 years ago from malang-indonesia

      Wow...this was wonderful octopus I've ever seen. I really enjoy this hub and everything about wonderful octopus. I learn much from you and I love the videos as well. Rated up and pushing all buttons, except funny. Keep on writing and have a nice day!


    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much, sgbrown! I appreciate the votes and the share. I hope that you have a great day too!

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 6 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      Wonderful hub! It is amazing how these animals can change themselves and mimic other animals to avoid their predators. I never knew of this octopus, I am glad I learned of a new species today! This was extremely interesting! Voted up, interesting and sharing on my blog! Have a great day! :)

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much for the comment, the vote and the share, Nell! Yes, there's still a lot that is unknown about the mimic octopus, but it is a fascinating animal.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 6 years ago from England

      Hi, the wonderpus and the mimic octopus are fascinating, I especially liked the mimic, how clever! all those different shapes, even the scientists are not sure exactly what it is mimicking! they say that octopus are clever, but this just goes to show exactly how much, amazing hub! voted and shared!

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, drbj. I agree, both the octopuses are wonder-puses! The ability to mimic other creatures is amazing. Thanks for the visit and the up vote.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 6 years ago from south Florida

      These two species of octopus are very similar and very interesting to watch, Alicia. Thank you for bringing this informtion to our attention. I am fascinated by the way both types mimic other sea animals to escape detection. I would call them both wonder-puses. Rated Up.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much for the visit and the comment, Augustine!! The wonderpus and mimic octopuses are fascinating animals. I'm glad that scientists have begun to study them.

    • A.A. Zavala profile image

      Augustine A Zavala 6 years ago from Texas


      I love the introduction of animals we've never heard about or seen before. Thank you for sharing Alicia!

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Tom! Thank you for the comment and for voting. I'm glad that you find the octopuses fascinating and beautiful too! I was happy to find the videos, especially the ones that show the mimic octopus and its disguises. This octopus certainly is an amazing creature.

    • kashmir56 profile image

      Thomas Silvia 6 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi my friend, another wonderful hub about these amazing and fascinating and beautiful sea creatures. I found the hub filled with facts i did not know about the octopus before which made a very interesting read.Loved the videos !

      Vote up and more !!!

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much for the comment, livelonger. I understand your friend's feelings completely! I hate to see octopuses trapped in tiny tanks in aquariums - they need room to explore and activities to interest them. I think it's a great shame that octopuses live for such short a time.

    • livelonger profile image

      Jason Menayan 6 years ago from San Francisco

      Fascinating! I've always loved octopuses - they are incredibly intelligent. I love the way they change color and shape for camouflage, escape, or even mating. A friend of mine refuses to eat them because they're too smart for him to eat with a good conscience!

      Thank you for the rich description of their behavior, and the illustrative videos & pictures.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much Peggy! I appreciate your comment, the votes and the share, as always!! Yes, it is very exciting that scientists are still discovering fascinating animals, when many people think that we must have found everything by now! The true seems to be that there are lots of living things left to discover as we improve our search techniques and visit areas that haven't been explored by scientists before. Many new species of animals are found each year - some of them large animals like octopuses.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Both of these octopus are truly interesting and to think that they have been recently discovered is even more amazing! I watched all of the videos and sat here amazed at the different forms they take to protect themselves from predators. Great job on this hub, Alicia! I enjoy learning these types of things by reading your informative hubs. All the ups except funny and will share this with others.