The animal kingdom abounds with masters of mimicry -- one creature taking the form of another in order to gain protection from predators. Classic examples include viceroy butterflies imitating the coloration of unpalatable monarch butterflies, milk snakes bearing a similar stripe pattern to deadly coral snakes and harmless moths channeling venomous wasps.
In all of these cases, the mimic copies another single species. But recently, biologists discovered a strange type of octopus that can imitate a veritable school of ocean creatures. It's known as the mimic octopus (Thaumoctopus mimicus), and it only grows to about 2 feet (60 centimeters) long. It spends its days swimming along the muddy bottom of shallow estuaries in Indonesia and Malaysia, trying hard to keep its soft body from becoming a tasty treat for larger predators. Luckily, the mimic octopus doesn't have to rely on speed or brute strength. Instead, it shape-shifts into a menagerie of poisonous animals.
Scientists have watched the mollusk transform into more than 15 different species, including stingrays, jellyfish and lionfish [source: Hemdal]. To take on the appearance of the flat and poisonous sole fish -- one of its most impressive impersonations -- the mimic octopus draws all of its arms together to form a leaf-shaped wedge and then undulates over the ocean floor. It can also impersonate a banded sea snake by stuffing six of its arms into a burrow and pointing the other two in opposite directions so they look like two snakes.