Tucked into a small cove on Lembeh, just off the northeastern corner of North Sulawesi, sits the muck-diver’s dream destination, Lembeh Resort. Onsite dive shop Critters@Lembeh can make all your macro dreams come true, with around 60 dive sites to choose from just a short boat ride away in Lembeh Strait. The Strait’s gently sloping brown-sand bottom provides perfect habitat for everything from octopus, to frogfish, to the wildly weird looking stargazer. The sheer volume of critters at Lembeh will leave you gob smacked.
Dive guides at the resort have logged thousands of dives between them, and seem to know just where to find anything and everything. You’ll be asked to provide an animal bucket list on arrival, so don’t be shy: if you say you want to see it, guides will make it happen. There are so many possible critter encounters that it’s hard to narrow down our favorites. But nonetheless, we’ve given it a shot with our picks for the top five critters at Lembeh.
Although it’s similar in appearance to the more common wunderpus octopus, the mimic is considerably harder to spot. If you’re unsure which one you’re seeing, look at the animal’s arms: the mimic octopus has a bright white line along the base of its suckers, but the wunderpus does not. This solitary octopus is native to the Indo-Pacific, and thusly named because of its uncanny ability to impersonate other species. They can change both their skin color and texture to impersonate anything from a rock to a sea snake or lionfish. Only growing to about two feet long (60 cm) including arms, it’s also one of the region’s smaller octopuses.
Frogfish are a diver favorite, and Lembeh certainly delivers. You’ll see giant frogfish, hairy frogfish, warty frogfish, painted frogfish and more. One of our favorites is the hairy frogfish, whose spines look like hair, causing both its distinctive name and appearance. Frogfish can change color and pattern to match their surroundings, but they’re often brownish-orange to yellow like this one. And just because they’re small, don’t think they’re not deadly. Waving an extra-long spine that looks like a lure in front of their mouths, they attract their prey within striking distance and gobble up the curious passerby before it even knows what hit it.
Unlike the hairy frogfish, which is a threat only to other fish who stray too close, the blue-ringed octopus can be deadly to humans as well. There’s enough neurotoxin, called tetrodotoxin, within each one’s body to kill up to 26 adult humans within minutes. The small cephalopod, typically only five to eight inches long (13 to 20 cm), is not aggressive toward people, however, far preferring flight to fight. Its prey consists of small crabs, shrimp and other small crustaceans.
Vibrant colors in nature often advertise toxicity, as with the blue-ringed octopus. The flamboyant cuttlefish is no exception. Although its base color is dark brown or black to match its surroundings, when threatened by a predator, this small cephalopod displays brilliant yellow and violet coloration by deploying colored ink beneath the surface of its skin. It’s active during the day and inhabits shallow water, from depths of 10 to 280 feet (3 to 86 m). This makes it a relatively common sight in Lembeh. And now back to that toxicity: If eaten, its flesh is as poisonous as the blue-ringed octopus, so this species has managed to avoid a place on the human dinner plate.
Peacock Mantis Shrimp
Although they’re so common that you’ll see them on nearly every dive, we couldn’t leave the peacock mantis shrimp off our list. This tiny creature is a wonder of evolution, meriting dedicated coverage of its own. Despite their relatively small size, with most growing to around 4 inches (10 cm) in length, these creatures pack quite a punch — literally. There are 400 species worldwide, divided into two sub-groups: smashers and spearers. Smashers, as the name implies, smash their prey with a powerful blow from a club-like thoracic appendage.
Spearers impale their prey with a spear-like structure. Smashers strike so fast (up to 51 miles per hour) and so hard, in fact that a hit’s impact can generate forces of 1,500 Newtons. It takes about 1,900 Newtons for a human karate chop to split a concrete slab an inch-and-a-half thick. And they’re not particularly suitable for captivity: they’ve been known to break aquarium glass with a single strike.