Underwater World Winner: "The Great Mimic"
Shell Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition, 2006
It might want you to think otherwise, but this rare sea creature is actually an octopus.
The Indo-Malayan mimic octopus, a species first described only a year ago, is a master of disguise. When Michael Aw of Singapore first spotted the animal while diving off Indonesia's Banka Island, the octopus was pretending to be an eel, he says
Swimming alongside it for an hour, Aw says the shape-shifting octopus went on to assume the appearance of a sole, a ray, and then a sea snake. Its repertoire of disguisesused for both hunting and hidingalso includes hermit crabs, jellyfish, and sea cucumbers.
In the photo, the 1.5-foot-long (0.5-meter-long) octopus is mimicking a feather star, an animal related to the sea star, or starfish, Aw says.
"I guess it was saying, Please leave me alone, I'm really not interesting," the photographer said.
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Photograph by Michael Aw. The Shell Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition is owned by the Natural History Museum and BBC Wildlife Magazine, and is sponsored by Shell.