Octlantis: The Newly Discovered Octopus City

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Biologists have just discovered an underwater city of octopuses. Octlantis features dens made out of piles of sand and shells and is home to up to 15 of the cephalopods, according to marine biologists.

The scientists recorded 10 hours of video footage of the site now dubbed Octlantis, which lies 10 to 15 meters (33 to 49 feet) under the water and measures 18 by 4 meters (59 by 13 feet). The international team of researchers saw the gloomy octopuses meeting up, living together, communicating with each other, chasing unwelcome octopuses away, and even evicting each other from dens – so it seems Octlantis can be quite a rough place to live.

Octopolis seems to be centered on an unidentified human-made object about 30 cm (11.8 inches) in length, but there’s no obvious comparable object in Octlantis that creatures appear to have settled around. Instead, it might be jutting rocks that first attracted the octopuses to the area, according to the researchers.

“These behaviors are the product of natural selection, and may be remarkably similar to vertebrate complex social behavior,” lead researcher David Scheel, from Alaska Pacific University, told Ephrat Livni at Quartz. “This suggests that when the right conditions occur, evolution may produce very similar outcomes in diverse groups of organisms.” –Science Alert

Two behaviors at this site suggest that Octopus tetricus octopuses aren’t quite the loners they’ve always been portrayed as by biologists, but what we don’t know yet is whether these small octopus cities are particularly common, or exactly how they get started. Normally, octopuses meet to mate before going their separate ways and were never thought of as a social species.

The first odd social behavior is the “Octopus Fight Club.” The new octopus city lies in Jervis Bay on the coastline of eastern Australia and is close to another similar site discovered in 2009 called Octopolis. At that site, scientists have seen a kind of Octopus Fight Club take place in the past. Second,  the researchers also discovered the discarded shells of eaten prey scattered around the city and sometimes those shells were used to form dens.

“At both sites there were features that we think may have made the congregation possible – namely several seafloor rock outcroppings dotting an otherwise flat and featureless area,” says one of the team, Stephanie Chancellor from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“We still don’t really know much about octopus behavior,” says Chancellor. “More research will be needed to determine what these actions might mean.”

*The research has been published in Marine and Freshwater Behaviour and Physiology.

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