Wunderpus Octopus: Masters of Mimicry in Lembeh Strait

The Lembeh Strait is renowned for the sheer abundance of rare and unusual marine life that resides here. The critters in the Lembeh Strait quite probably outnumber the amount of fish! Among the various critter types, cephalopods are particularly prevalent with numerous species of squid, cuttlefish and octopus to be found.


Octopi in The Lembeh Strait

Lembeh is home to multiple species of iconic octopi including (but not limited to) blue ring octopus, coconut octopus, algae octopus, hairy octopus, long arm octopus, starry night octopus, mimic octopus and of course, the wunderpus octopus. In this Blog we take a look at the wunderpus octopus in more detail.

Lembeh Strait, North Sulawesi Indonesia, Bitung, critters@Lembeh Resort, Lembeh Resort, wunderpus octopus,underwater photography


Identifying Wunderpus Octopus (Wunderpus photogenicus)

The wunderpus octopus (AKA ‘wunderpus’) has a rich rusty colored body with white markings. It has a very similar physical appearance to the mimic octopus and the species are often mistakenly identified (see the comparison chart below). The white markings are found as ‘bands’ along their arms, underneath which are cream colored suckers. There are frequently other white markings on the wunderpus’ mantle, head and eye stalks. 

Just like its close relative, the mimic octopus, the wunderpus is also able to mimic other sea creatures as a form of defence – and attack. Wunderpus are able to change their shape, color and skin texture in a split section to either blend in with the environment or to scare a potential predator away. 

While the mimic octopus was officially recognized by scientists in 1998, it was not until 2006 that the wunderpus was officially recognized as a distinct species. Take a look at the table below to see some of the key differences between these two species.

Wunderpus Octopus Mimic Octopus
Usually most active in the early morning and evenings Usually active during daylight hours
Separation between dark and light areas of skin is distinct with high contrast Separation between dark and light areas of skin is less distinct and more subtle / blended
Has an orange-brown, rusty skin coloration Has a darker brown coloration (no orange hues)
Rear edge of mantle has a white spot Rear edge of mantle has a white U or V shape
Has long eye stalks Has more compact, shorter eye stalks
No white margin along the arms at the base of the suckers Has a visible white margin on each arm at the base of the suckers

Front look of wunderpus octopus


Wunderpus Octopus Diet

Wunderpus are predators that feed mainly on fish, crabs and shrimps (crustaceans). Like all octopus species, the wunderpus is known for its intelligence and it employs two different hunting methods according to the circumstances. 

If it is hunting potential prey that is on the seafloor, it will use its camouflage abilities to approach the prey undetected. Once within striking distance the wunderpus will ‘stand up’ on its arms and position itself over its victim. Once in position, it expands the webs attached to its arms to form an ‘umbrella’ over the prey. It then uses a single arm to pull the prey into its mouth.

When hunting critters which are in burrows in the sand, the wunderpus will extend one of its arms into the burrow and grab the prey with the suckers on the underside of the arm. Incredibly, the wunderpus has the ability to regenerate parts of its arms that are lost and it can also release these parts to distract predators.

Wunderpus octopus, Lembeh Strait, North Sulawesi Indonesia, Bitung, critters@Lembeh Resort, Lembeh Resort


Wunderpus Octopus Behavior

Because the wonderpus octopus was discovered relatively recently, and prior to this had been believed to be a mimic octopus, there is not a wealth of information available regarding its habits. However, it is thought that the bright rustic body color contrasting with the white bands enables this species to mimic dangerous banded animals like sea snakes and lionfish as a form of protection against predators. Another theory suggests that it might be a warning to predators that it’s toxic – supported by the fact that the colors and pattern become even more highly contrasted when the creature is threatened.

Wunderpus live in burrows – which makes the Lembeh Strait the perfect habitat for them. Lembeh’s fine volcanic black sand sites make burrowing easy. The wunderpus will not always dig its own burrows though, it will also move into burrows dug by other species, including other octopuses. Wunderpus venture out of their burrows to feed at both dusk and dawn – making these the best times for wunderpus sightings.

Wunderpus move around by either streamlining their bodies and swimming or by using their arms to raise themselves up and perform a walking motion over the ocean bottom.

Close up Wunderpus Octopus (Wunderpus photogenicus), Lembeh Strait


Wunderpus and Underwater Photography

Wunderpus are extremely fast swimmers and they are quick to take flight when threatened. The best photography of wunderpus will have the eye clearly in focus, be well lit to show the rich coloration, and have a crisp overall focus to show the white markings. The best time to capture a wunderpus shot is when the creature is stationary on the sand. Approach extremely slowly and in increments, allowing the octopus to get used to your presence before closing the gap between you again. Take shots while edging closer and keep adjusting your focus. By doing this, if the wunderpus takes flight, you should still have some usable shots.


Join us in Lembeh

Are you planning your next dive trip? Reach out to Lembeh Resort for more information about our diving, accommodations and facilities for underwater photographers and videographers at: reservations@LembehResort.com

If you enjoy reading about the fascinating marine life found in the Lembeh Strait, you may also enjoy reading:

Lionfish In The Lembeh Strait, North Sulawesi
It’s All About The Bobbit Worm
The Flamboyant Cuttlefish (Metasepia Pfefferi)

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