Octopuses are insanely gifted: they have been spotted building forts, playing games, and even walking on dry land. But one area where headaches are absent is the social department. At least that’s what marine biologists believed. Now a newly discovered underwater community, called Octlantis, is leading scientists to question their characterization of octopuses.
As reported by Quartz, the so-called octopus city is located in Jervis Bay near Australia’s east coast. There are as many as 15 gloomy octopuses on the seabed, also called the usual Sydney octopus (octopus tetricus). Previous observations of the creature have led scientists to think they are strictly lonely, not counting their annual mating rituals. But in Octlantis, octopuses communicate by changing colors, throwing each other out of burrows and living side by side. In addition to interacting with their neighbors, the gloomy octopuses helped build the infrastructure of the city itself. On top of the stone formation they call home, they stored piles of shells and shells and shaped them into shelters.
There is another known gloomy octopus community similar to this one and it can help scientists understand how and why they form. The original site, called Octopolis, was discovered in the same bay in 2009. Unlike the Octlantis, the Octopolis was centered around an artificial object that sank to the sea floor and at the same time provided dens for up to 16 octopuses. Researchers who studied it assumed it was a freak. But this new city, built around a natural habitat, shows that the gloomy octopuses in the area may be evolving to become more social.
If that is the case, it is unclear why such October cities are so unusual. “Compared to the more typical solitary life, the costs and benefits of group living and investment in interactions still need to be documented,” the researchers wrote, who discovered the group in a paper published Marine and freshwater behavior and physiology [PDF].
It is also possible that for the first time in history, people have the resources to see octopus villages that may have always been bustling under the sea surface.