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!
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!
🐙 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.
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:
- Colors and Patterns
Let’s get started!
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
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.
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)
- 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.
🐙 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.
🐙 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!
For the Mimic Octopus, two main mantle patterns consistently present are:
- The teardrop ring in the middle-ish area of the mantle
- 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.
🐙 Fun Fact 🐙
Check out the blog on Wunderpus to learn more!
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!
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:
- And a smorgasbord of crustaceans!
However, their hunting techniques vary slightly.
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!
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:
- 7 Fun Facts About The Majestic Mimic Octopus!
- Incirrate vs. Cirrate Octopuses: What’s The Difference?
- A Dreaming Octopus? Let’s Look At Cephalopod Sleep Cycles!
- Vampire Squid Facts: Ancestors Of The Jurassic Seas!
- Top 5 Smallest, Teeniest, Tiniest, Octopus Species!
Corinne is a biologist with 10 years of experience in the fields of marine and wildlife biology. She has a Master’s degree in marine science from the University of Auckland and throughout her career has worked on multiple international marine conservation projects as an environmental consultant. She is an avid scuba diver, underwater photographer, and loves to share random facts about sea creatures with anyone who will listen. Based in Japan, Corinne currently works in medical research and scientific freelance writing!