How To Spot A Mimic Octopus — The Mystery Revealed

Mar 28, 2012
Originally published on March 28, 2012 11:02 am

In my last post, I wondered: How did Asian fishermen manage to discover the mimic octopus? Thaumoctopus mimicus is a wildly talented cephalopod that lives in shallow waters off Indonesia and Malaysia. It can change shape any time it likes, and can mimic anything — flatfish, giant crabs, seashells, sting rays, you name it — so if you see a blob that looks like a walking clam on Monday, and on Tuesday it looks like a snake, how would you know it's the same guy (or gal)? And yet, somehow, the species was identified in 1998.

A puzzlement.

And now the answer. Alert reader "digital cuttlefish" (who ought to know, being a cephalopod him/herself) has discovered this hand-drawn key, strangely written in English, published by blogger Randall Munroe, who posts at xkcd. I can see this chart being passed from boat to boat in Brunei Bay or maybe tacked up over the bar in Bukit Batu as a handy dandy guide for puzzled fishermen.

So now we know.

Fussy Word-People Alert

For those of you off-put by the use of the plural noun "octopuses," the dictionaries these days say that's OK. Octopuses is as acceptable as octopi, and if you don't like it, yell at Mr. Webster. And, of course, Malays can muck up English any way they like.

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