Don’t try to learn marine taxonomy from SpongeBob SquarePants

At some point someone had sent me this video as a joke – according the SpongeBob SquarePants, this is what nematodes do in the deep sea:

Video embedding was disabled by YouTube, so click here to watch the video.

(And if you’re really lazy, here is a screenshot):

Nematodes according to SpongeBob – AVERT YOUR EYES!!

I was so utterly horrified at this depiction that I had to rant about it publicly. Everything they’re trying to say about nematodes is WRONG!!! In case you tried to absorb some anatomical facts about nematodes from that clip, please erase them from your memory, take a cold shower, and consider the following (scientifically correct) points:

  • Nematodes have a mouth at the TOP of their head. Not the side.
  • What are those lines going across their body? Are the SpongeBob animators trying to suggest nematodes are SEGMENTED worms??? The mere thought is so preposterous that I’ll give the animators the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they were trying to imply that these nematodes are from a pseudo-segmented group of nematodes, such as the genus Desmoscolex, which has rings (known as desmen) around its body. These desmen form via nematode secretions and famously collect all sorts of gunk from the environment.

The nematode species Desmoscolex frigidus (image courtesy EOL)

  • If you have a clean nematode (not carrying any organic gunk on the side of its body, which some do) it will look mostly transparent under the microscope, not that awful shade of vomit green.
  • Nemtaodes are POINTY at BOTH ends of their body. Pointy!

Even C. elegans is pointy at both ends (image courtesy of EOL)

  • Nematodes move in what is called “sinusoidal motion” – they wriggle their body side to side forming the shape of the letter “S”. They do not bounce up and down and they certainly do not have sound effects accompanying their movement.
  • Nematodes DO NOT EAT WOOD. Shipworms (not actually worms but a type of clam) are the ones famous for eating wood. Nematodes eat pretty much everything else BUT wood, including diatoms, bacteria, protists, plants, and yes even other nematodes.
  • Last time I checked, nematodes were not eusocial animals.

So thanks, SpongeBob animators, for ruining an opportunity to teach your audience about nematode taxonomy and ecology. This scientist is not impressed.

That is all. Carry on.

Holly Bik (140 Posts)

I am a computational biologist at the University of California, Davis. My research uses DNA sequencing and genomics to study microbial eukaryotes (yeah, nematodes!) in marine ecosystems, with an emphasis on evolution and biodiversity in the deep-sea. I can neither confirm nor deny that I like Unix more than I like going to sea.





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6 comments on “Don’t try to learn marine taxonomy from SpongeBob SquarePants
  1. Ok true enough. But while we’re at it how about commenting on the accuracy of their depiction of Poriferan anatomy? I’ve never seen a sponge with a face.

  2. But, other than that, the science in Sponge Bob is correct, no? because otherwise, I’m not going to bother lighting the campfire in my aquarium so my fish can stay warm after getting lost running away from the police because the stole a balloon on free ballon day. :)

    btw, I first heard about nematodes in the crappy cartoon Doug, from the early 90′s, check it out, I’m sure it will make you cry as well.

  3. This was my favorite episode. I find it interesting that you zero in on the erroneous portrayal of nematodes in a cartoon where sponges have human parts, pants, etc, the starfish the same and lifting rocks, Squidword (assume it’s a squid) plays the clarinet. Yikes! You mean it’s all a big lie! Next you’ll be telling us that Wyle E. Coyote can’t really ride an Acme rocket!

    I get your point but I think it’s wasted on the intended audience. Lighten up. :-)

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