Giant Squid2020-07-20T16:59:04-04:00

Project Description

A replica of a giant squid, Architeuthis dux, looms from the ceiling to greet guests as they enter the Museum.

Giant squids (Architeuthis sp.) are the largest invertebrates (animals without backbones) alive on Earth today. These enormous animals reach lengths of 18 m. (59 ft) from the tips of their tails to the ends of their tentacles. For comparison, this model is a more typical size of 9.7 m (32 ft) long. 

Squids belong to a class of mollusks called cephalopods. Although all cephalopods live in the ocean, they are closely related to snails and slugs. 

Where do giant squids live?

Like all cephalopods, giant squids live in the ocean. Scientists photographed one giant squid at 900 m (2,953 ft) in the deep ocean canyons of the Pacific Ocean, and many dead giant squids have washed ashore around the world. These clues suggest that giant squids live worldwide in every deep ocean.

Although there are no freshwater cephalopods, the Atlantic brief squid (Lolliguncula brevis) can tolerate lower salinity waters and is found in the Delaware Bay.

How do they move in water? 

Like other squids, giant squids move through the ocean by drawing water into the mantle cavity, then forcing it out through the funnel. Squids can travel large distances across the oceans, or vertically in the water column.

Giant squids have very small fins relative to their body size. Slow or short distance movements may be accomplished by flapping the fins.

Giant Squid Life Cycle

How long giant squids live is still a mystery, but most squids live for one to three years. It is possible that the giant squid grows to full size in about one to two years.

At the end of their lives, female squids lay thousands of fertilized eggs. The eggs may be laid individually, in strands known as “mops” or in large floating egg masses. Scientists do not know how the giant squid lays its eggs.

Squid hatchlings known as paralarvae are 1-4 mm long when they emerge from the egg. Most paralarvae live and feed in the upper 200 m (650 ft) of the ocean. Adult squids are typically found in deeper water.

Eyes

A basketball is about the same diameter as the eye of a giant squid: 23 cm (9 in). Cephalopods are visual predators, and while most are color-blind, their eyes can detect differences in brightness, shape, size, and orientation.

Tentacles

Squids have eight arms and two long feeding tentacles. The arms have suckers along their length, but the tentacle suckers are concentrated at the tip in an area known as the club. Tentacles can extend instantaneously to grab prey from the surrounding water. Arms hold the prey as the squid eats.

What and how do they eat? 

Giant squids are active predators that can instantaneously extend their tentacles to strike at prey. They arms move prey into the mouth. Squids bite into food with their sharp beak and then grind it with the radula (ribbon of teeth). The food must be small beause the esophagus goes through the brain on the way to the stomach.

Giant squids eat other squids and probably deep-sea fishes such as hoki  (Macuronus novaezelandiae) and orange roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus), as in the model on exhibit.

What eats giant squids?

Giant squids are so large that they have few predators. Scientists know sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) eat them because giant squids’ beaks have been found in the stomachs of sperm whales.

Cephalopods avoid being eaten by making a quick escape into the darkness of the deep ocean using jet propulsion. Often they leave behind a cloud of ink that confuses the predator. Cephalopod ink is mucus mixed with melanin (a dark pigment). In some squid species, the ink looks like chocolate syrup.

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