Scuba Diving Photos
Encounters: Eight-Legged Freaks!
The mimic octopus is a living, breathing Rorschach inkblot test: The chameleon contorts into 13 different body positions resembling other species, but we assign the meaning, finding shapes such as flounder and sponges. “Mimicry is one of the slipperiest subjects in science,” says Dr. Roger Hanlon, an expert in animal camouflage who prefers to call the phenomenon “deceptive resemblance.” To find these creative contortionists, hire a guide. Local experts such as Serge Abourjeily at NAD-Lembeh Resort know what to look for at sites like Rojos, Aer Bajo and Hairball. For starters, the octopus is found exclusively in the black-sand environment in depths ranging from six to 75 feet. The mimic is most commonly sighted in an “up-periscope” position with its head raised high above its body. Abourjeily stresses a slow approach. Stay still to study the odd behavior of this day-active species. One such move: They disappear for up to five minutes into the muck. “We don’t know how they breathe in the sand,” Hanlon says. The mollusk’s ability to appear like a flounder impresses Hanlon the most. The mimic changes its position, rate of undulation and even the direction it typically swims. Why? Only large predators eat flounder, whereas a host of small critters will try to nip off a bit of tentacle. Apparently, shape-shifting has benefits.
>WHEN TO GO Year-round
>OPERATORS NAD-Lembeh Diving Resort (nad-lembeh.com) is a small resort with several highly experienced guides.
>PRICE TAG A seven-night, 17-dive package costs $876 in an air-conditioned room
Due to their keen camouflage tricks and seeming ability to outsmart us, octopuses fascinate divers. The hunt is only the beginning: We scan reef and rubble for tentacles and shell piles, occasionally rewarded with an opportunity to discover this animal’s reactions. Will we be deceived, or do we give octopuses too much credit? After all, points out Dr. Roland Anderson, a retired Seattle Aquarium biologist, “How smart can a cousin of the clam be?”
FIVE OCTO FACTS
1 Giant Pacific octopuses, which grow to eight feet in length and weigh 100 pounds, can wiggle their bodies through a baseball-size opening.
2 Octopuses can be trained visually to run mazes, even making detours when a new food source appears.
3 Every inch of an octopus’ skin tastes what it touches.
4 Octopuses quickly learn to recognize individuals. At the New England Aquarium, a giant Pacific octopus named Truman took a dislike to a female volunteer, using his siphon to squirt a stream of water at her each time she entered the room.
5 Germans rallied behind Paul the Octopus each time he predicted a win for the national team during the 2010 FIFA World Cup, but when he chose Spain as the victors, livid fans hungered for sushi justice.