Centrum för kognitiv semiotik (CCS)

Humanistiska och teologiska fakulteterna | Lunds universitet

Tentative suggestions on the psycho-cognitive basis of the mimic octopus’ semiosis

José Manuel Ureña Gómez-Moreno

Octopuses have been argued to have primary consciousness, working memory and the capacity to form simple concepts as the result of visual and tactile learning (Mather 2008). A case study of the mimic octopus’ (Thaumoctopus mimicus, T. mimicus) deferred mimicry models as antagonistic responses to potential predators or territorial species is presented. Not only has T. mimicus been shown to recurrently imitate a flatfish, a lionfish, and a sea-snake for survival, but it also adopts a form best suited to the perceived threat at any given time. This is thus indicative of facultative dynamic mimicry.

Special attention is paid to the sea-snake impersonation, which is particularly thought-provoking from a semiotic and psycho-cognitive perspective because of highly adapted, complex, cognitive thinking and precise enactment. The possibility is raised that this octopus species exhibits proprioception (including a primitive form of self-awareness of one’s body: body image); volition; representation; deductive, spatial consciousness; and cognitive empathy (specifically, deception and perspective-taking strategies to imagine or project into the place of the object). Importantly, cognitive empathy is one of the basic constituents of referential behaviour. These capacities condition and drive the way the animal performs (and optimises) the imitation.

This is preliminary research, and thus, it requires falsifiable field and lab observation to reach to compelling results.


Mather, J. (2008). Cephalopod consciousness: Behavioural evidence. Consciousness and Cognition 17:37–48.