Comin’ Atcha

The Lembeh Strait, North Sulawesi, Indonesia

A mimic octopus sprints across the sandy bottom, straight at the camera
Comin’ at Ya

I was hoping to see several weird and wonderful creatures when Nancy and I set out for the Lembeh Strait. The mimic octopus was near the top of my list. Happily, the guides at The Lembeh Resort know exactly what to spot and these little critters are not all that uncommon in the strait.

The mimic octopus must have been there for a very long time, but it was not discovered officially until 1998. Like all octopi, the mimic octopus can change color to blend with its surroundings, but it is usually dark brown and white striped. This is the only octopus known to mimic the appearance and mannerisms other species. It has been known to imitate more than fifteen different species, including sea snakes, lionfish, flatfish, brittle stars, giant crabs, sea shells, stingrays, flounders, jellyfish, sea anemones, and mantis shrimp.

With practice, I learned to spot the mimic octopus. Fining along a few feet above the basically featureless sand bottom, we would sometimes spot what looked like a small hill of sand, topped with two small spikes. The protuberances at the top of the “hill” would be the octopus’ eyes. It’s body and arms were buried under a thin layer of sand. Swiping a stick back and forth across the surface of the sand while approaching the small “hill,” the dive guide was usually able to get the creature to move. The octopus would emerge from hiding before the stick got close enough to threaten his position. Only a couple of times did the little octopus decline our invitation to dance and hold his position; in those cases we left without disturbing the stubborn little beastie.

What probably surprised me most about the mimic was its diminutive size; in life, this octopus is only about the size of an adult male’s hand. I was also impressed at how relatively relaxed and gentle the creature seemed, even after disturbed. Creatures in Lembeh generally tend to hold still, move slowly, and depend on the current to carry them away (or eventually withdraw into a hole or burrow). They generally don’t jet away or flee quickly. Actually, most of the creatures that attract divers to the Lembeh Strait are quite small, photogenic, and generally don’t flee quickly.

A divemaster waves to distract a mimic octopus on the sandy bottom in the Lembeh Strait
Little Imitator

Since the creatures generally don’t move fast or far, the Lembeh Strait is a photographer’s dream. Since they are all pretty small, this is also definitely macro territory; underwater photographers here will want macro capability — and quite probably even super-macro magnifying diopters to enlarge the subjects so they fill the photo frame.

(Top image [“Comin’ at ya”]: Canon G11 in Ikelite housing with two Ikelite DS-125 strobes on TTL control; integrated lens at 6.1mm; ISO 80; f/5.6 at 1/60 sec.)

(Second image [“Little Imitator”]: Same camera and strobes; 6.1mm; ISO 200; f/3.5 at 1/60 sec.)

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Images and text copyright © Rick Collier and thePhotoTourist. All rights reserved.

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