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Mimic Mimic

January 18, 2012

When an Indonesian octopus mimics poisonous fish, a smaller fish takes advantage.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Mimicking a mimic.  I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

To avoid predators, the mimic octopus of Indonesia contorts its body and adjusts its swimming patterns to resemble a sea snake or one of several toxic fish.  Now, ichtyologist Luiz Rocha of the California Academy of Sciences and his colleagues have discovered that a small, timid fish called the jawfish actually mimics the mimic octopus.

LUIZ ROCHA (California Academy of Sciences):

The jawfish is not mimicking anything that is mimicked by the octopus.  So the jawfish is not mimicking the lionfish, for example.  Or a sea snake.  It’s mimicking the actual mimic.

HIRSHON:

He says the jawfish rarely ventures out of its burrow alone.  But it will swim in the open with a mimic octopus, blending into its tentacles while the octopus itself puts up its own false front.  Rocha says it’s the first known fish in the sea to mimic a skilled imposter, rather than a genuinely dangerous species.  I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.