The Antisocial Social Club of Gloomy Octopuses

Jan 31, 2021
By Emma Goldberg

Gloomy octopuses, also known as Common Sydney Octopus, have traditionally been thought of as loners. Until recently, scientists believed these ocean critters, who live on the rocky shores of Eastern Australia and Northern New Zealand, only interacted with each other to mate once per year.  Soyou can imagine how surprised marine biologist David Scheel and his colleagues were, when they discovered 15 of these octopuses living together in an underwater “city”,  that researchers named Octlantis.  It’s important to note that Octlantis is the second Octopus city that has been observed; the first, Octopolis, was discovered in 2009 and was thought of as an anomaly until Octlantis was found.

a gloomy octopus. source.

Unlike New York City, Octlantis isn’t filled with skyscrapers and crosswalks.  Instead, it’s like a tiny village of dens,built up over generations.  Gloomy octopuses only live for about 3 years, but they leave behind mounds of discarded shells from their prey and junk, like bottles and fishing lures, that they collected throughout their lives. Over the years, these piles of scavenged materials became the building blocks for the dens of Octlantis.

So why do these normally anti-social critters decide to live together in Octlantis?? Scientists aren’t entirely sure, but they think it has something to do with the flat and featureless underwater landscape.   ,which make for good shelter-ready areas for the octopuses to inhabit.  These areas are also the perfect habitats for scallops and other octopus foods. 

Living in these cities, however, isn’t exactly a paradise.  Scientists have witnessed  evidence of octopus evictions, where one octopus steal shelter from another  . Researchers have also observed “water gun” fights,  where they will throw objects at their nearest rival with powerful jets of water shot out from their siphons, to expel water. You see these “water gun” fights in the video below:

Based upon these observational findings of complex social behaviors, scientists believe that despite their antisocial attitude, these gloomy octopuses have been socializing for a long time.  Scientists are excited to continue learning about these intelligent and, surprisingly, social creatures, hoping to find the next Octopus city!

Edited by Zoe Terwilliger and Alec Chaves