The Science of SpongeBob
Important questions about life in his benthic community
by Holly Hartman
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Is a sponge a plant or an animal?
A sea sponge may look like a plant, but it is actually an animal—a very simple animal that as an adult is sessile (unable to move on its own). A kitchen sponge, however, like SpongeBob is generally made from cellulose, a plant material.
How do sponges eat?
A sponge takes in food as it filters water through its body, which is made of different kinds of cells. Some of these cells help the sponge to pull in the water and grab microscopic nutrients. Other kinds of cells transport the nutrients and expel waste. By contrast, SpongeBob uses his mouth to eat ice cream and soap.
What would make a krusty krab crusty?
In a word: critters. Scientists call these critters encrusting organisms or epibionts. They include barnacles, algae, and small worms that permanently attach themselves to a crab shell or other hard surface.
Why is Bikini Bottom a bottom instead of a top?
SpongeBob's hometown, Bikini Bottom, is an ocean floor community where bottom-dwelling organisms called benthos live. A benthic community includes sponges, starfish, and many other amazing animals and plants.
Are sea onions edible?
A sea onion is a type of anemone—a slow-moving, carnivorous animal. It can burrow its round, onion-shaped body into the sand while leaving its tentacles trailing out. It contains a toxin and has never been known to have been made into either ice cream or bonbons.
Can squirrels swim?
Yes. A squirrel can dog-paddle for short distances, keeping its nose above the water and using its bushy tail to steer itself. Like Sandy Cheeks, however, most squirrels make their homes in trees and prefer to avoid contact with water.
Are squid really so anti-social?
No. In fact, squid are very social. Squid live in groups called shoals. A shoal consists of up to 50 squid that hunt, eat, swim, mate, and hang out together. Cranky Squidward, however, is not a squid—he's an octopus, which is a solitary animal.
Are starfish really so slow?
Yes. It's not just Patrick's brain—it's the nature of the starfish. A starfish can move only a few inches an hour. But it preys on animals that move even more slowly, such as snails and barnacles.
Are crabs really so greedy?
Crabs use their grabby claws to fight each other for territory, mates, and—especially—food. They will also eat each other. It is not unusual to see a crab missing a claw or leg after a conflict. Fortunately, a crab can regenerate (grow back) lost limbs.
Are snails intelligent?
Unlike Gary, the common snail is not known for its intelligence. However, its brain is important to science.
The snail has one of the most thoroughly studied brains in the animal kingdom. Its brain cells are large—larger than human brain cells—and therefore useful in research. In 2004, Canadian and German scientists confirmed that they had merged snail brain cells with silicon microchips. They hope to create semi-alive microchips that can treat health problems, such as blindness, that are related to brain function.
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