On Exhibit: Tentacles
small crustaceans and fishes
to 9 inches (23 cm); armspan to 16 inches (40 cm)
other octopuses, squid, cuttlefishes, and the chambered nautilus; Phylum: Mollusca; Class: Cephalopoda; Family: Octopodidae
shallow waters of Indo-Malayan Archipelago, extending from Vanuatu to Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and Malaysia, north to the Philippines
Named after the German word "wünder" meaning "marvel" or "wonder," the wunderpus has long, thin arms and spectacular patterns. It's a striking copper-brown color with dramatic white stripes and spots all over its smooth body. Its pattern is fixed but can change in hue and contrast.
This quick-change artist alters its color, shape and movements to mimic other sea animals as a warning display for potential predators. In a flash, the wunderpus can impersonate a venomous species, transforming its patterns into those of a lethal lionfish with poisonous spines or a sea snake.
The wunderpus is found on soft sediment habitats in shallow waters of Indo-Malayan Archipelago. It lives in the burrows of other animals or digs its own. This small species typically emerges at dusk and dawn to forage in the twilight, preying on small crustaceans, such as crabs, as well as fishes.
The wunderpus has arms five to seven times the length of its mantle, which are especially useful for hunting. It extends its long flared arms and webs over sand or coral rubble to trap its prey, or reaches into holes to probe and catch a meal.
This animal has small eyes on elongated stalks that are often raised, giving its head a Y-shaped appearance. The white spots on the head are unique to each animal, making it possible for biologists to identify and study individual animals.
The wunderpus is commercially important to underwater photographers, dive tourism and home aquarium trades. Because of the unique individual color patterns, biologists are able to use photo-identification to monitor individual animals in the wild. Little is known, however, of the life history and behavior of the wunderpus, as the species is relatively new to science—it was discovered in the 1980s and only officially described in 2006.
It appears that this species is capable of dropping an arm when attacked, allowing the octopus to escape from predators. It's then able to regenerate the lost body part.
The wunderpus is frequently confused with the similarly colored and long-armed mimic octopus.