Today's question might have struck you as a little odd. But let's face it. If you have an octopus with you — whether you're at school or in your room — you're probably going to need to hide it. After all, there aren't many parents or teachers who are going to tolerate you carrying around an octopus.
Luckily for you, octopuses are already pretty good at hiding themselves. Well, at least they're good at hiding themselves in their natural watery environment. They might not be so good at hiding themselves in your classroom or your bedroom closet.
Octopuses — like many wild animals — often use mimicry as a defense mechanism. Impersonating something else, whether it's a coral reef, aquatic plants or the sea floor, can help an octopus avoid predators and stay out of trouble.
Some people find octopuses intimidating. With their eight tentacles and huge heads, they can look a little scary. Their soft bodies, though, are a delicious meal for many types of aquatic predators, including sharks and sting rays.
But those soft, boneless bodies also allow octopuses to change color and shape to avoid those predators. Octopuses have special skin cells called chromatophores all over their bodies. These chromatophores are full of yellow, red, brown and black pigment. Octopuses learn at an early age how to contract their muscles to change both their color and their shape.
They can contort their bodies to look like the smooth sea floor or a jagged coral reef. Even though they're color blind, they can also change their color to blend in with their surroundings. Isn't it amazing how creatures can learn to hide from their enemies?
Although all octopuses can camouflage themselves, one octopus in particular has turned the skill of camouflage into an art form. The mimic octopus, first discovered by scientists in 1998, is the first octopus known to be able to purposefully copy the appearance of multiple different species.
Because it lives in the open waters off the coasts of Indonesia and Malaysia and hunts during the day, the mimic octopus doesn't have many places to hide from predators. As a result, it has learned to mimic common venomous species, such as lionfish and sea snakes. In total, scientists believe the mimic octopus can imitate up to 13 different species, including jellyfish, anemones and mantis shrimp.