Professor pokes holes in biology of SpongeBob SquarePants

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Photo Credit: Lexi Acevedo | Daily Texan Staff

Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? Sea sponges certainly don’t. Although SpongeBob SquarePants, the beloved childhood cartoon and meme sensation, isn’t an accurate depiction of sea sponges, he does share some qualities with real-life porous Porifera, according to biology associate professor Mikhail Matz. 

Sea sponges are one of the simplest multicellular animals living today, according to the Oceanic Research Group. Matz said despite sponges’ simplicity, they are one of the most important animals to study for evolutionary purposes because they may belong to the oldest animal family.

“Sponges … and SpongeBob … are one of the most unusual things alive today,” Matz said. “People who study sponges study them because they want to understand the evolution of the planet.”

While scientists can’t be entirely sure what ancient sea sponges looked like, Matz said that some modern-day sponges actually share SpongeBob’s bright yellow color. The yellow tube sponge, for example, sports the same neon yellow.

“Sponges actually do tend to have very bright colors,” Matz said. “Some are bright yellow but none of them have a pants and tie pattern.” 

Sea sponges are benthic, meaning they live on the seafloor and would likely encounter some of the same sea creatures SpongeBob does, but the interactions wouldn’t be so friendly, according to Matz.

“To tell you the truth, the sea bottom contains the whole of the diversity in the ocean,” he said. “SpongeBob would totally have access to this phyla … but sponges are basically lumps of nutrition, so anybody would love to eat them if they were not defended by the amount of toxins they have.”

If SpongeBob was based on reality, he would be poisonous and — are you ready, kids? — Patrick would eat him, Matz said. That is far from the reality of the show, despite Patrick Star’s appetite. 

According to Matz, actual sea sponges are poisonous either through their own biochemistry or by ingesting toxins through filter feeding. Not to mention that sponges are sedentary, or completely stationary. 

SpongeBob’s intake of Krabby Patties, in reality, would be a lot less exciting because real sea sponges lack a digestive tract and don’t use mobility to seek out their food source. So, “liar liar plants for hire,” SpongeBob is basically completely false. 

“On an accuracy scale from zero to ten, SpongeBob is a minus one,” Matz said.