First-ever sighting of mimic octopus in Mozambique

First-ever sighting of mimic octopus in Mozambique

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In a new study, researchers at the Marine Megafauna Foundation, in collaboration with the Vilanculos Coastal Wildlife Sanctuary, have made a surprising discovery of the shape-shifting mimic octopus in Mozambique. For the first time, the mimic octopus (Thaumoctopus mimicus), a species previously undocumented in African waters, has been captured on camera, signifying a noteworthy range extension of about 4700km from the Red Sea.

Mimic octopus in Mozambique

Unlike any other member of its species, the mimic octopus excels in the art of disguise. It possesses the remarkable capability to alter its shape, hue, and behavior to resemble various marine organisms, including lionfish, flatfish, sea snakes, and more. This extraordinary talent serves not only as a spectacle but also as a survival strategy, aiding the octopus in confounding predators and capturing prey.


Traditionally associated with the waters of Indonesia, the mimic octopus, initially documented in the 1980s, has enthralled underwater photographers and marine biologists alike with its extraordinary mimicry skills. Andrea D. Marshall, lead author of the study and co-founder of the Marine Megafauna Foundation, said, “These sightings represent a significant expansion in this species known range. Seeing one in Mozambique was startling; it was instantly recognizable, yet its presence here was completely unexpected.”

Map of Vilanculos Coastal Wildlife Sanctuary
Map of the Bazaruto Seascape with Thaumoctopus mimicus, Norman & Hochberg, 2005, sighting locations indicated within the Vilanculos Coastal Wildlife Sanctuary of southern Mozambique. (Image source: Dr Andrea Marshall)

Ocean wonders 

The octopuses were observed in the shallow waters of the Vilanculos Coastal Wildlife Sanctuary, demonstrating their distinctive behaviour of mimicking other marine species. Taryn Gilroy, Sanctuary manager, expresses her elation, stating, “Witnessing the mimic octopus within our Sanctuary was incredible. Its previously undocumented presence off eastern Africa underscores the richness and diversity of our marine life.” 

Call to action

The revelation of the mimic octopus in novel environs serves as a reminder of the vast and uncharted mysteries lurking in the ocean depths, emphasising the imperative for sustained research and conservation efforts. Marshall added, “Discovering such extraordinary creatures in new habitats reminds us of the vast unknowns in marine environments, particularly in Africa. We hope this finding will inspire awe and a renewed commitment to ocean conservation.”

The paper, "First photographic records of mimic octopus Thaumoctopus mimicus (Cephalopoda: Octopodidia) from southern Mozambique, Southwest Indian Ocean," is forthcoming in the Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom.

Marine Megafauna Foundation

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