Deep Sea Squid Pretends to Be Tiny...Then Attacks
What has eight arms with hundreds of suckers, eyes the size of grapefruit and a razor-sharp beak? A giant squid! A team of scientists and the Discovery Channel shot footage of this notoriously elusive creature in action. Click ahead for more squidly fun.
Giant squid have captured, and terrified, the seafaring imagination for centuries. This illustration recreates a giant squid observed off Tenerife in November of 1861.
This giant squid was collected by NOAA researchers off the Louisiana coast in the Gulf of Mexico. The largest invertebrate on Earth, the giant squid is just plain big -- the largest ever found was 59 feet (18 meters) long.
The only squid bigger than a giant is the colossal squid. Captain John Bennett examines the world's first intact adult male colossal squid in 2007 in the Ross Sea, near Antarctica. The squid was about 33 feet (10 meters) long. Check out those suckers!
These two female giant squid were found off Luarca, Spain. For an idea of the size of these creatures, note the gloved hand in the upper-left.
Alien autopsy? Nope. It's one of the Luarca squid from the previous slide, undergoing an examination by Spanish scientists.
Here's a giant squid measuring about 28 feet (9 meters), on display at London's Natural History Museum. This creature was caught in March of 2004, at a depth of 722 feet (220 meters), off the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic.
A cat strolls past a giant squid in January 2005 in Newport Beach, Calif. That winter hundreds of 3- to 4-foot-long (0.9 to 1.2 meter) squid washed up along the Southern California coast. One theory holds that they ran ashore while chasing grunion.
This is another shot of a squid from the Newport Beach, Calif. wash-up. Giant squid eyes look so human because they’re structured much like human eyes are.
It may look big in the photo, but this larval squid is just 0.4 inches (1 centimeter) long and was photographed through a microscope by Russ Hopcroft, of the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
The humboldt, or jumbo, squid is a carnivorous marine invertebrate with a lifespan of only 1-2 years. But it makes hay while the sun shines on its short life: In that time, it can grow to 4 feet (1.2 meters) long.
We may know it better as calamari, the familiar appetizer, but its proper name is common market squid. This adult market squid was photographed off La Jolla Shores Beach in La Jolla, Calif.
This adult jumbo squid was caught near the Channel Islands by a squid jig aboard an NOAA research ship in 2007. Its tentacles are wrapped around the jig that was used to catch it, which worked by attracting the squid to its glowing yellow plastic.
This is a closer look at the 2007 Channel Islands squid. Its telltale large eyes allow the creature to see in the very low light that permeates its deep underwater habitat.
A squid's razor-sharp beak is a merciless weapon against its prey, allowing it to chomp tasty bites out of its victims. Here we see a close-up of a Caribbean reef squid's beak.
Deception occurs even in the deepest parts of oceans, as scientists have just discovered that a deep-sea squid pretends to be a small animal, luring prey ever closer before making a deadly attack.
The secret weapon turns out to be a long fishing line-type appendage with a club at the end that the squid waves around like a hand puppet, fooling passers by.
“These tentacle club movements superficially resemble the movements of small marine organisms,” according to Hendrik Hoving, a researcher at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, and his team.
Their paper, published in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, describes the first ever observations of the squid, Grimalditeuthis bonplandi, in its Atlantic and North Pacific habitats. Remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) permitted observation of the squid and other creatures up to nearly 2.5 miles below the ocean surfaces.
Scientists had been puzzled for a while about this particular squid. The tentacles and clubs of most squid bear things like suckers and hooks for catching prey. Most of us have seen B-movies where some enormous squid grabs an unaware diver with these tentacles and gobbles him to bits.
The long elastic stalk of G. bonplandi is instead surprisingly “thin and fragile,” with no such grabbing devices on it. Now we know why.
The ROVs caught the squid in the act of deception.
First, the squid deploys its tentacle club far away from main part of its body. You can see this in part “a” of the image here. The “b” portion of the image shows (with an arrow) pigment-containing cells known as chromatophores. These are very cool, as they create an optical illusion, permitting squid to dramatically change their skin color and texture.
Chromatophores also can reflect light. While sunlight doesn’t reach down into the ocean depths, bioluminescent animals do produce a glow that might be reflected.
The “tr” in the “b” image marks protective membranes on the club that can flap, giving the club its own propulsion.
“These undulatory and flapping movements of the tentacle clubs superficially resemble the swimming of a small midwater animal (e.g. worm, fish, squid, shrimp),” the authors write. “We hypothesize that G. bonplandi exploits this resemblance, using the tentacle clubs to attract potential prey towards the squid. How prey is subsequently engulfed by the arms and handled by the suckers remains subject to speculation.”
Possible prey animals are smaller squid, octopi, shellfish, and other species that might go after small animals like worms and shrimp. Even if these victims cannot see the fake “shrimp,” they can sense the vibrations created by the flapping movement.
It’s clearly challenging to study animal activities that take place so deep in the ocean, but the researchers think it’s possible that other squid species and marine mollusks also use deceptive lures to catch their dinners.
(Image: @2013 MBARI)