On April 18, 2015 I attended MARINE’s (Monterey Area Research Institutions’ Network for Education) Ocean Colloquium. There, among many interesting speakers, I heard Hannah Rosen speak about her research on Humboldt Squid communication at Hopkins Marine Station, Stanford University. I was fascinated and I later asked if I could interview her for my blog. The following interview was conducted by e-mail:
1. Tell me a little about yourself and how you came to be at Hopkins Marine Station.
Hannah Rosen (HR) : I grew up in Pennsylvania, but when I was 11 I went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium with my family. I thought it was pretty much the most amazing place I’d ever been in my life, but never imagined I would someday be working right next door. I went to college at Bucknell University and studied animal behavior. I became fascinated with cephalopods and how smart they are. So I decided to go to graduate school and do research on cephalopod behavior. That’s how I found Dr. Gilly at HMS and decided to do research on squid chromatophores and their use in Humboldt Squid.
2. How did you become interested in studying squid?
HR: I first became interested in octopus after reading about their incredible ability to learn and even play. However, when I did more reading I realized that while there was a lot of research done on octopus and cuttlefish, there almost none done on squid because of how difficult they are to study. I guess I sort of saw this as a challenge and that made me want to be the one to work on this research.
3. How do squid communicate?
HR: Squid communicate mostly through body patterns on their skin. Different species have different colors of the expandable pigments sacs called chromatophores, which they can use like pixels on a screen to create different patterns. They often use these patterns in concert with different body and arm positions, and with light reflecting cells in their skin called iridophores.
4. Why did you study Humboldt squid instead of other cephalopods or squids?
HR: I was interested in Humboldt squid partly because of the interesting dynamic they have within their schools. They are always found in groups, but we don’t know if these groups are static or if members come and go. There is some evidence they hunt together, but they are also very cannibalistic. All these complexities made me think they must have a way to communicate with each other to maintain whatever sort of order that seems to exist. They are also large enough to strap video cameras onto, which makes it a little easier to study them than some other squid.
5. How did you get camera footage of Humboldt squid displaying?
HR: We got that footage using National Geographic’s Crittercam, an animal-borne video package that we put on squid that were caught using a squid jig and hand line. The squid were able to swim freely with the camera, which automatically detached after a few hours and floated to the surface, where we were able to recover it and look at the footage.
6. What do you hope to learn (i.e. what your dissertation is about)?
HR: I’m hoping to learn something about how Humboldt squid use their chromatophores, both for communication and camouflage. I am also comparing some of the anatomy of the chromatophores in Humboldt squid to that in California market squid to see if some of the differences in how they use their chromatophores translate into physical differences as well.
7. Have you come across any interesting facts about squid during your studies?
HR: I have learned lots of interesting facts about squid! Some things I have learned that aren’t about my particular research is that squid have blue blood instead of red because they use copper instead of iron to transport oxygen. Also, the have three, one chambered hearts instead of one, many chambered heart.
1. The eyes of the Giant Squid Architeuthis dux are the size of dinner plates.
*TRUE* Giant Squid eyes are the largest in the animal kingdom.
2. The Giant Squid have tentacles 60 feet long.
*FALSE* The longest measured dead Giant Squid was 43 feet (13 meters) long.
3. Giant Squid are the Kraken of legend that attacked ships and sailors.
*TRUE* to a certain degree, as washed up specimens of Giant Squid have fascinated humans for 2,000 years. They are known to “attack” boats by sticking their tentacles on them, but they have never attacked any humans!
4. Giant Squid attack Sperm Whales.
*TRUE* but probably only in defense. Sperm Whales have been found with sucker disk marks on their skin which proves that these two species tussle. Sperm Whales probably win most battles, as Giant Squid beaks (their only hard part) have been found in their stomachs.
5. Captain Nemo’s encounter with a Giant Squid in Jules Verne’s 1870 novel, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, was inspired by a true event.
*TRUE* in 1861, a French Naval ship encountered a Giant Squid, but Verne’s imagination took over from there!
6. Giant Squid have never been filmed in their natural environment underwater.
*FALSE* in 2012 a Giant Squid was filmed in the Pacific Ocean. Here’s the Discovery Channel’s coverage of a live Giant Squid.
7. A Giant Squid’s beak resembles that of a Parrot.
*TRUE* only a Giant Squid’s beak is made of chitin, which is what the exoskeleton of many insects is made of.
8. When a Giant Squid swallows its food, the food goes past its brain.
*TRUE* A Giant Squid’s esophagus (feeding tube that reaches the stomach) goes past its brain!
9. A Giant Squid’s feeding tentacles are 2x its body length.
*TRUE* A Giant Squid has 8 arms and two long feeding tentacles with clubs at the end.
10. Giant Squid eat other Giant Squid.
*TRUE* Giant Squid are cannibals!
For more information visit Giant Squid Legends
I have been called by many names, including sea monster, kraken, calamari, and dinner. I am a giant squid (Architeuthis spp.). I am a highly intelligent cephalopod. My cousins include the octopus, cuttlefish, and chambered nautilus.
Despite my ancestors washing up on shore or getting caught in fishing nets, we have managed to stay elusive to humans. Truthfully it hasn’t been that hard, as humans have explored less than 5 percent of the oceans. Most of the ocean is the pitch dark deep sea in which no sunlight penetrates. That is where I live.
No human had ever filmed a giant squid alive deep in the ocean until recently. They filmed one of my colleagues using a special light that neither humans nor squid can detect, and created a special lure. I’m sure my fellow squid knew that someone was around though. There are always those who love to hog the spotlight in every species!
Here are my impressive stats:
1. My eyes are the size of dinner plates, and are the largest eyes of any animal on earth.
2. Giant squid can grow to lengths of 43-55 feet (13-16.8 meters) measuring from the top of our heads to the tip of our tentacles.
3. Unlike octopus, we have 8 arms plus 2 long feeding tentacles.
4. We have razor sharp rings on all our suckers (those are what leave scars on sperm whales).
5. Giant squid actually do sometime win in epic battles with sperm whales!
6. We are found in all the world’s oceans.
7. Giant squid are quite intelligent.
My octopus cousins are considered the most intelligent invertebrate, but their benthic (living on the bottom) nature makes them easy (and fun!) to keep in captivity. My smaller squid relatives are much harder to keep alive in tanks. Squid may seem less intelligent, but we are really just studied less by humans.
The giant squid footage airs in a documentary that will be broadcast in the US on January 27 on the Discovery Channel. Check your local listings for times.
My scientific name is Vampyroteuthis infernalis, which translates to “vampire squid from hell.” Too bad I’m not actually a squid or even an octopus, even though I have characteristics of both. I’m not a vampire either as I don’t suck blood! I do have a vampire-like cloak that I can wrap myself in (see MBARI video, it’s really cool!). As for being from hell, I dare you to live in pitch black darkness at 2000 feet deep (610m) 24/7 and not consider it hell! Just kidding, I am perfectly adapted to life in the deep sea, as my species has been around for millions of years. I am still a cephalopod, a group that includes octopuses, (true) squid, cuttlefish, and nautiluses.
I have been in the news lately because a study found that I eat feces and corpses. They are some of the components of marine snow, the organic bits and pieces that drift down from the surface to the bottom of the ocean. Maybe humans would not eat those things, but food is scarce in the deep sea. I’m constantly on the move, and I trap food in long, sticky, and retractable lines that I cast out from my body. My one inch (2.5cm) wide azure eyes are perfectly adapted for seeing in low, or no, light. I also have dark blue bioluminescent photophores (lights) all over my body. Bioluminescence (i.e. glow-in-the-dark light) is the only source of light in the deep sea.
So like octopuses I have 8 arms, but I don’t have ink sacs. Instead my “ink” is a mucus ball comprised of bioluminescent lights. It works for me when I feel threatened, and besides, black ink in the black deep sea wouldn’t do me much good.
I hope you can appreciate me now that you know I am more than just a feces eating scavenger, as I am one cool and wholly unique species!
In honor of October 10, Squid and Cuttlefish Day during Cephalopod Awareness Days, I would like to introduce myself. My name is Bolt. I am a Humboldt squid, or jumbo squid. It always amuses me that humans are so frightened of sharks, when any SCUBA diver who has dove with us at night during a feeding frenzy knows that we are among the most dangerous animals in the ocean!
Just like sharks once they smell blood in the water, I also revert to my baser instincts when I am feeding. First I grab my prey with my two longest tentacles, and then I pierce it with the sharp teeth that are all over my suction cups. I use my suckers like an assembly line to bring the prey to my beak, and then chomp! I bite with my beak and chew with my radula. Like sharks, we will release you if you’re not tasty, but we can’t guarantee that the bite won’t cause damage! I like to eat animals smaller than me, including fish, crustaceans, other cephalopods (including other squid), and copepods. Other squids in large shoals, of up to 1,200 individuals, can take down larger prey (including humans…)
So we Humboldt squid are not nasty all the time, and it is just our mouth and sharp suckers that humans are afraid of. Or maybe our size, as we can grow up to 6 feet long (2m), and weigh over 100 pounds (45kg). Otherwise, come visit us when we are not in a feeding frenzy, as we are very curious about our surroundings, and that includes human intruders, I mean divers…
Did you know that I can dart through the ocean at speeds up to 15 miles per hour (24 km/hr)? I can do that thanks to my handy dandy multi-tasking siphon. It can shoot out water for propulsion, get rid of waste from my body, help me breathe, and squirt ink when I feel threatened.
Humans are becoming concerned that Humboldt squid are beginning to take over the oceans. ‘Tis not our fault, but humans’ for altering the ocean environment in our favor. Humans are fishing out too many large predators like tuna, swordfish, and sharks. We are eating what those overfished animals used to eat, and have been able to expand our territory to ask far south as Chile, and as far north as Alaska in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. So I hope humans continue to like calamari (just don’t eat me, thanks), as we squid may soon take over all the oceans…
You can help by eating only sustainably caught fish. Download the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch App today!