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Octopus Urbanism

Octopuses Are Urbanists, Too

Scientists were surprised to find that this smart and solitary species had built a cephalopod city. Why?

CityLab, Sept. 20, 2017

Despite his name, Squidward Q. Tentacles—the grouchy neighbor of SpongeBob SquarePants in Nickelodeon’s long-running cartoon—isn’t a squid. He’s an octopus. (Allegedly, creator Stephen Hillenburg named him Squidward because “Octoward” sounded too weird.) On the show, Squidward lives inside a moai head at 122 Conch Street, next door to SpongeBob’s pineapple, in the underwater city of Bikini Bottom.

A sarcastic loner, he tries to avoid the relentlessly chipper sponge and his other neighbor, the slow-witted starfish Patrick, by staying in, drinking tea, and practicing the clarinet. You know what they say: An octopus’s moai is his castle.

Hillenburg, as many of the show’s fans know, used to be a marine biologist, and it turns out that Squidward’s domestic bent is shared by octopuses in the real world. The species has long been known to collect bits and pieces from the sea floor to make “gardens” (thanks, Ringo) or build themselves personal dens. But now comes evidence that Tentacle Acres—the cephalopod-only community that Squidward briefly moves to in Season Two of “SpongeBob”—is not just a fiction.

In Quartz, Ephrat Livni writes that researchers have identified a community of 15 octopuses living together in Jervis Bay, off eastern Australia. The discovery was surprising because members of this species, the Sydney or gloomy octopus, were thought to be loners. Instead, the researchers observed them “congregating, communicating, dwelling together, and even evicting each other from dens” at the cephalo-city, which the scientists dubbed Octlantis.

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