The Incredible Mimic Octopus Can Be Found In Phuket
Finding mimic octopus in Phuket is not a new thing for local divers but it may come as a bit of a surprise to holiday makers. Mimic octopus (thaumoctopus mimicus) are a relatively new species to science, only classified in 1998 from Indonesian specimens. The potential range could be huge because of the habitat they choose to hunt in. Featureless sandy/muddy flats is generally where you can find mimic octopus, not the first choice for most divers. Certainly not where our Phuket diving day tours will take you.
Kata Beach where we find ours is a case in point. For years the diving has been concentrated on the small but interesting reef. The huge areas of sand have been pretty much ignored. Rumours of mimic octopus have been doing the rounds for years. Dive guides are understandably reluctant to take guests away from reef and risk delivering a dive of sand, sand and more sand.
Over the last few years local expats and dive pro’s have taken the time to explore away from the reef. We now know there is a healthy population of mimic octopus inhabiting Kata Bay. We’re fairly confident that the population won’t be confined to this one location.
There’s many beaches around Phuket that fit the profile for mimic octopus – large, shallow expanses of sand/mud, preferably with an estuary or stream running into it. Even the microbe rich waters of Patong could have mimics although probably deformed.
What And Why Do They Mimic?
Let’s start with the why. A boneless, squidgy bag of protein meandering around in plain sight with nowhere to hide is not going to be an evolutionary winner. The problem is exasperated by the animals diurnal nature. They’re not very big (mantle length 5.8cm) so there’s plenty of different mouths it can fit into. A radical, outside of the box solution was required.
It’s suggested that mimic octopus have as many as 15 different outfits in their closet. Some of those can only be described as dubious at best. Lionfish, sole, sea snakes, jellyfish, anemone, starfish, stingray among others. The mimic octopus doesn’t appear to throw random shapes but evaluates which is the best disguise for the situation. Choosing to mimic the most likely animal to deter the present threat.
The mimic octopus doesn’t just imitate shape but also colours and behaviour. It will glide along the bottom and copy the swimming motion of a sole, rise into midwater and flare its legs to look like a lionfish and even swim to the surface and slowly float down to look like the jellyfish. A fine actor indeed.
Some of the displays may just be the octopus displaying warning colours. It’s not proven to have toxic flesh but researchers have seen the mimic octopus being spat out by predators. As with all cephalopods they can also quickly change colour to blend with its surroundings.
What Do Phuket’s Mimic Octopus Eat?
Nothing exciting here, it’s mainly small fish and crustaceans. Just about all it can find in it’s habitat and again why you won’t find many divers. When hunting, the mimic glides over the bottom extending its tentacles into holes hoping to find a meal or rises just off the bottom and makes a ‘net’ while disturbing the substrate with its arms in the hope of flushing the prey out. The octopus also can disguise itself as a crab in order to get close enough to strike.
Like most cephalopods they’re partial to a bit of cannibalism, although researchers aren’t sure if this behaviour is hunger influenced or simply taking out the competition.
Tips For Finding Mimic Octopus
Well first you need to turn your back on those beautiful reefs and head out on the sand. Early morning and evening is when they’re most active, however they can be found at anytime of day. Although usually it’s just a pair of eyes sticking out from the sand.
Stay low swim slowly and hopefully you’ll spot the octopus from a distance. They’re quite curious so if you hold back a bit it may come out of its hole. If you’re lucky enough to see one out in the open, just follow from a reasonable distance and it may just carry on with its business.
If you spot one late in the evening retreating to its hole then try and return the next day. The octopus will probably spend the entire night there. In the morning it will emerge and begin hunting. The mimic doesn’t have a permanent house but it may use the same burrow for several days. (Ref: Sealifebase)
Want To See A Mimic?
We can certainly take you to Kata Beach to try. We do see them often but there is a risk that if we don’t find one then it can be quite a boring dive. There are plenty of other things to see out there but if your sole purpose is to see a mimic then you need to cover a lot of ground. It’s not possible to dive from the beach in the rainy season so you’ll have to come between November to April.
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