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
10 Awesome Cuttlefish Facts
1. Cuttlefish are cephalopods, not fish. Cephalopods include octopus, squid and nautilus.
2. Cuttlefish, along with most cephalopods, are the ocean’s most intelligent invertebrates.
3. Cuttlebone, is lightweight and found in the body of a cuttlefish. Cuttlebone is used by pet birds to get calcium.
4. Cuttlefish have green-blue blood and 3 hearts!
5. A cuttlefish’s camouflage is so amazing that it can take on a checkerboard pattern placed beneath it.
6. Cuttlefish are color blind.
7. Cuttlefish taste with their suckers.
8. Cuttlefish have 8 arms and 2 long tentacles used for feeding.
9. The largest cuttlefish is the Australian giant cuttlefish, which is the size and shape of an American football.
And the last cuttlefish fact is:
10. Cuttlefish eyes have W shaped eyelids so they can see in front of them and behind them at the same time.
See my review of the Tentacles Exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium
See the Anatomy of a Cuttlefish from PBS’s NOVA special, Kings of Camouflage
The Tentacles exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium contains many species of cephalopods from oceans around the world. Cephalopods include Octopus, Squid, Cuttlefish, and Nautilus. Many species in this exhibit have never been on display before.
I am a cephalopod lover. I have even taught a red octopus to open a jar to get live food inside! So I was thrilled to see species I have never seen in person before, especially the Wunderpus and Bigfin Reef Squid.
I went on a busy Saturday afternoon on April 26, 2014, and the following is the species list that day. The aquarium is going to vary the species list during Tentacles’ run depending on availability. I wanted to review the whole exhibit because I was unsure if I would be able to see each ceph on exhibit given that they are masters of disguise, and many are shy. I am happy to report I saw an animal at each exhibit!
The first tank of the exhibit is the Bigfin Reef Squid. They are housed together in a large tank with many squid visible at once. They are one of the few species of squid that like to school. They school to fool predators into thinking that they are bigger. They were changing colors, and their outreached tentacles looked ready to strike any moment!
Did you know squid and cuttlefish have 8 arms or legs, and 2 long club-like tentacles that strike out to capture their meals?
The next tank was the Day Octopus tank. This ceph was the hardest to find in all the exhibits. That’s a bit ironic as it is supposed to be active during the day, while most other cephalopods are active at night! I saw part of its white body and eye hidden in the reef rocks.
The amazing Wunderpus was next. This is an amazing octopus that changes form to mimic other poisonous creatures, including a lionfish, banded sole, and a sea snake. It was active and crawling along the window so I could see its underside of suckers and mouth.
The Red Octopus is common to Monterey Bay and other cold regions of the ocean. This one was awake and was crawling along the window.
There are 2 tanks of Giant Pacific Octopus. Both were squished into the upper right window corner. One was fully visible, and the other only had some suckers showing. Be careful here, as it is dark and people easily run into each other. The largest recorded GPO was 13 feet (4 meters) long!
I was surprised the Chambered Nautilus tank was so large and full of dozens of nautilus. I have never seen so many at once. I also haven’t seen them stuck to the ledges in the exhibit before.
I love the Flamboyant Cuttlefish, it is worth finding a video about them. I have seen some before at Steinhart Aquarium at the California Academy of Sciences where they were in a tank that didn’t overwhelm them. Here, the tank was much too large and the inches long cuttlefish got lost in the tank. They were visible, though it took most people awhile to spot them. When they are excited, their colors are surreal, and their flashing moves like a conveyer belt along their body. They also are known for “walking” across the sea floor.
I had never seen a Stumpy Cuttlefish. They were small, only a few inches long, and they were camouflaged and hiding in the reef rocks. They were readily visible though.
The last tank was for the Common Cuttlefish, a species I have taken care of before. One cuttlefish even accidentally caught my hand in their tentacles once! There were dozens at the “cute” size of 3-4 inches long. They were floating near the fake sea grass, and the ones buried under the sand were visible to visitors.
It was so busy the day I was there that I didn’t read very many signs, or stop to enjoy the artwork, some of it created just for this exhibit. Overall I give the exhibit an A+. The Tentacles exhibit is worth the trip to Monterey, especially for cephalopod lovers!
10 Interesting Octopus Facts
1. The preferred plural of “Octopus” is “Octopuses” by cephalopod and octopus lovers.
2. Octopuses are considered the earth’s most intelligent invertebrate. They are also very dexterous, and can be taught to unscrew the lid to a jar to get food inside! (I’ve actually done it!)
3. Due to having no bones and being an invertebrate, a Giant Pacific Octopus can fit through a 2 inch hole (which is the size of its beak or mouth).
4. Octopuses are masters of camouflage-not only can they match the pattern of the background they are on, but they can change texture too (Amazing octopus camouflage video here).
5. Octopuses have 3 hearts and blue-green blood.
6. A octopus not only feels with the suckers on its 8 arms, but it also tastes with its suckers too!
7. An octopus’ 8 arms move independently of its brain.
8. Most species of octopus are nocturnal (sleep during day, active at night) but some species like the Day Octopus (Octopus cyanea) are awake during the day.
9. The largest octopus on record was a Giant Pacific Octopus that weighed 600 pounds (272 kg) and arm-to-arm span was 30 foot wide (9m).
10. There are 300 species of octopuses ocean-wide.
For more on the octopuses’ cousins, the cephalopods see:
Meet Shelley the Chambered Nautilus
Vampire Squid: I’m No Vampire, I’m Not Even a Squid!
First Video Filmed of a Giant Squid in the Ocean