Wunderpus vs. Mimic Octopus: Spot The Difference!

It can sometimes be hard to identify an octopus species, but it can be especially hard when they look so similar! Just like the two species we are covering today. Let’s look at the Wunderpus vs. Mimic Octopus! Can you spot the difference? I’ll show you!

mimic octopus in red sea
Mimic octopus in the Red Sea

Octopuses are usually easy to pick out from a crowd (unless they are in ninja camouflage mode)! That bulbous head paired with 8 arms is a pretty recognizable animal shape. But how about telling different species of octopus apart? 

It gets trickier, especially with their color AND shape-shifting abilities! 

One of the most common species mix-ups is between the Mimic Octopus (Thaumoctopus mimicus) and Wunderpus Octopus (Wunderpus photogenicus). With just a quick glance, you would think you’re looking at the same octopus. Upon closer inspection, it turns out they are completely different species with more than a couple of differences! 

Chaotic cephalopod confusion! Who has the bigger eyes? Are they really the same color? Do they operate on different schedules? Read on, and you’ll never mistake the two again!

bright orange red wunderpus
Wunderpus in Indonesia

🐙 Octopus Fun Fact

Both the Mimic and Wunderpus are the only species belonging to each genus!

The Wunderpus-single species can be found in the Coral Triangle-an area, including Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Timor-Leste, and the Solomon Islands.

The Mimic-single species is found throughout the Indo-West-Pacific Ocean, from the Red Sea to Samoa.

2 mimic octopuses on top of each other
Mating Mimic Octopus By: Kamil Jureczko

Battle of the “Bands”: Wunderpus vs. Mimic Octopus

Today, I am going to break it down into categories and show you the biggest differences between the Mimic Octopus and the Wunderpus. 

We will take a look at their:

  • Sizes
  • Habitats
  • Octo-Tricks
  • Colors and Patterns
  • Eyes
  • Behaviors

Let’s get started! 

Mimic octopus crawls through a bed of algae in Tulamben, Indonesia.
Mimic octopus crawls through a bed of algae in Tulamben, Indonesia.

🐙 Size

The Mimic and Wunderpus are both on the smaller octopus scale, with the Mimic Octopus being a bit more of a beefcake. They can reach a total length of around 58 mm whereas the Wunderpus is about half that size (with a mantle length of 36mm) and weighs no more than a handful of almonds (7-11 grams)! 

Something they both have in common is super long octopus arms. But what it comes down to is the length of them. 

  • Mimic Octopus arms: 7-10x longer than mantle length
  • Wunderpus Octopus arms: 5x longer than mantle length
wunderpus crawling sea floor
Wunderpus By: Kamil Jureczko

🐙 Habitat

The Mimic Octopus AND the Wunderpus love to bury themselves in the shallow sandy ocean bottoms of the tropical waters of Indonesia and Malaysia.

Due to their fantastic mimicry abilities, they both thrive in shallow silty, sandy bottoms to depths of 20m (Wunderpus) and 37m (Mimic). They spend their time hiding in the sand or shapeshifting into different animals to sneak up on prey and ward off predators. 

Mimic Octopus By: Ocean Vizion

🐙 Octo-Tricks

Arguably, it does seem that the Mimic Octopus has a few more “mimicking tricks” up its long, slender arms. 

Scientists have identified 3 well-documented mimics, including:

  • Banded soles (fish)
  • Lionfish
  • Sea snakes

With divers having reported many more!

Mimic Octopuses mimic these toxic creatures to protect themselves from predators. The Wunderpus, on the other hand, use their camouflage to creep up on unsuspecting prey! 

However, since the Mimic Octopus was officially recognized in 1998 and the Wunderpus only in 2006, there’s been many more studies done on mimicry from the Mimic Octopus. So, it seems to have an arm up in that respect. 

mimic octopus vs wunderpus octopus
Mimic octopus

🐙 Octopus Fun Fact

Mimic and Wunderpus Octopus haven’t completely cornered the market of underwater mimicry. There’s a fish that mimics the Mimic Octopus! The Harlequin Jawfish (Stalix histrio) has a similar color pattern and has been observed swimming close enough to the Mimic Octopus that it looks like one of its arms.

Quite the gamble since I’m sure it would make a tasty treat for the Mimic. 

Wunderpus vs mimic octopus
Wunderpus (Wunderpus photogenicus) on Sandy Bottom in Anilao, Philippines

🐙 Colors and patterns

Compared to some of the other octopus species, both species can overall seem like a drabOverall a drab octopus (not trying to be mean, just stating facts! I mean, have you seen the Female Blanket Octopus?!?!) with both being a mix of brown and white.

By far, the best distinction between these two is the color pattern on their arms. 

Both have white bands against a dark brown base (can be pale orange to red in Wunderpus); however, the Mimic Octopus has a bright, white, CONTINUOUS line along the base of their suckers, whereas Wunderpus does not.

If they hold still for long enough to get a good look at their mantles, there are key differences there as well! 

Mimic Octopus (Thaumoctopus mimicus) in the Lembeh Strait
Mimic Octopus (Thaumoctopus mimicus) in the Lembeh Strait

For the Mimic Octopus, two main mantle patterns consistently present are: 

  1. The teardrop ring in the middle-ish area of the mantle
  2. The white “U” is on the end of the mantle. 

Wunderpus lacks these patterns but has many white spots and bars or stripes on its mantle, head, and eye stalks. There is a large, round white spot present on the tip of the mantle.

As we know, octopuses have thousands of chromatophores to change their color instantly, so it’s best to pair your color ID with other characteristics. 

That way, you’re certain you’ve got the right octopus. 

🐙 Octopus Fun Fact

Check out the blog on Wunderpus to learn more!

Say Howdy to the Wunderpus! Wunderpus photogenicus

What’s your favorite childhood movie? This is giving us Beetlejuice vibes! 🎥:: Ben from Manta Dive Gili Trawangan📚 The Wunderpus is often confused with the mimic octopus… the best way to identify this species is to look at where the arm meets the suckers— if there isn’t a white line at the base of it’s suckers, it’s a wunderpus! (Use this trick in our stories quizzes!) 🌅 Wunderpus is primarily active at dusk and dawn feeding on small crustaceans and fishes by flaring its arms and webs over patches of sand or coral rubble to trap prey. This species also extends its arms into holes to probe for food.😅 Living in open soft substrates offers little refuge from predators— so they evolved to have super clever super powers (adaptations) that make them masters of their environment! ☠️ This distinct color pattern may have evolved as a defensive strategy against predators as a warning display through one of two scenarios: (1) it warns that the octopus is toxic or venomous or (2) it represents impersonations (mimicry) of toxic or venomous animals with similar color patterns which co-occur in the same habitat. 

🐍 Suggested mimicry includes lionfishes & banded sea snaks. Lionfishes possess long poisonous spines with similar banded markings as seen in Wunderpus. 

🐙 They’ve been observed sitting with six arms down a burrow while two opposite arms undulate to produce an appearance of a banded sea snake.

🎶 Jonathan Buch – One Step Too Far#dive #padi #scuba #underwaterphotography #octopus #Wunderpus

Posted by Octonation – The Largest Octopus Fan Club on Wednesday, November 25, 2020

🐙 Eyes

Octopus eyes are a wonder all on their own, but the big difference here is how far they are from the octopus’s body. 

Mimic Octopuses have eyes on short stalks with one or two elongated and sharp papillae over each eye. Wunderpus have small eyes that are often raised, so the head of the animal is Y-shaped. They have a single long, blunt-tipped pappila over each eye. 

This ]identification comes in super handy when they are buried in the sand, and all you see are two eyeballs watching you intently from the ocean bottom!

Wunderpus (Wunderpus photogenicus) on Sandy Bottom in Anilao, Philippines
Wunderpus (Wunderpus photogenicus) on Sandy Bottom in Anilao, Philippines

🐙 Behavior

They adhere to different schedules! 

While neither species has a precise routine, you will generally find Mimic Octopuses out and about during the daytime, whereas the Wunderpus Octopus is on a mosquito’s schedule, coming out for dusk and dawn to forage. 

They have the same favorite snacks, scouring the bottom with their lanky arms looking for tasty morsels of:

  • Crabs
  • Fishes
  • And a smorgasbord of crustaceans!

However, their hunting techniques vary slightly. 

mimic octopus sprawled in sandy bottom
Mimic Octopus

Wunderpus like to create a net with the webbing between their arms to trap food (just like the Caribbean Reef Octopus!). Upon finding a crab hole, they will make themselves into a parachute and use their arms to drive the crab out of their hole and straight into their web trap. 

Mimic Octopuses spend more time cruising along the bottom, using their long arms to investigate holes and crevices, scaring critters out, and then chasing them down for dinner. 


Now for some homework! Don’t worry, it’s fun!

Remember the grumpy but lovable octopus Hank from Finding Dory? He is based on the Mimic Octopus…or is he?? Probably a good time to have a rewatch (see, fun homework!) and see if Disney didn’t accidentally pick a Wunderpus as their octopus star (or a completely different species altogether!) 

Now that you’re an expert, you’ll be able to tell!

wunderpus vs mimic
Mimic Octopus vs. Wunderpus Chart By: Insider Divers

If you want to educate yourself some more about all sorts of different cephalopods, take a look at our encyclopedia. Or, what we call it, our Octopedia!

Connect with other octopus lovers via the OctoNation Facebook group, OctopusFanClub.com! Make sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram to keep up to date with the conservation, education, and ongoing research of cephalopods.

Want to learn more octopus facts? Check these out:

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