Question Your World: Can Octopuses Build Homes?

Posted: June 28, 2023

In 1969, the world was introduced to a beautiful visual thought ushered in by the one and only Ringo Starr. Yes, we mean the "Octopus’s Garden!" 

The Beatles were really on to something all those years ago. Okay, so octopuses—yes, the plural is officially octopuses—don’t tend to gardens, but some have been observed living in a loosely constructed commune. So, can octopuses build homes?

Octopuses have been studied a lot over the years, but we continue to learn more and more about this amazing animal. During one observation, scientists found a species of octopus creating living environments that end up hosting 10-15 individuals. When we say “creating a living environment,” we don’t mean with octopus construction companies and whatnot—it’s more like shells and rocks kind of gathered in an area to create a multi-chambered place for them to live.

Observations of these octo-colonies show these animals are not as solitary as we thought. Scientists observed octopuses fighting, mating,and some of them were just chilling out near each other. This colony, nicknamed “Octopolis,” certainly shows evidence that some species of octopus may very well be social creatures.

So, what is the name of this real-estate concerned octopus? It’s called the gloomy octopus. How fitting considering today’s real estate market! The gloomy octopus is just one species, but it does shed more light on the vast range of behaviors of these cephalopods. Lab tests over the years have helped us better understand some of their cognitive and survival-related behaviors, but observations in the wild are infrequent. Observations like these, while rare, do offer a beautiful new perspective on how these animals behave when they are on their own in their natural environment.

While Octopolis is far away in Eastern Australia, we Virginians do have some cephalopods living right here in our Chesapeake Bay. The common octopus and a few species of squid call these waters their home. Considering we know some octopuses are social and build domiciles, this raises some natural questions regarding our Virginia octopus friends. Are there other octopus species that display social behaviors? Are there more species of octopus that build colonies for groups to live in? Are they ever going to list those properties on Zillow? Only time and more scientific observations will tell!