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
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!
Wow, it’s already International Cephalopod Awareness Days again! (see my post from last year’s Octopus Day about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
Here are the Cephalopod Awareness Days we are celebrating: October 8 is Octopus Day (my favorite!), October 9 is (Chambered) Nautilus Day, October 10 is Squid and Cuttlefish Day, October 11 is Myths and Legends, and October 12 is Fossils and Extinct Species (Vampire Squid fit here as “living fossils”, they have been in the news lately, perhaps you have heard that they eat feces and corpses in the deep sea?)
In honor of Octopus Day, I thought I would go over the “State of the Oceans.” Since I’m no orator (I have no vocal cords), you’ll have to settle for my thoughts.
Right now there are 3 major issues facing the ocean today:
1. Global Warming
Whether or not you believe global warming is currently happening, or that it is humans that are causing it, the effects of global warming have been shown over geologic time (i.e. longer than humans have inhabited the earth). Global warming causes seawater temperatures to rise, which can have devastating effects on all wildlife, especially on corals. For more on coral bleaching see my last post.
Due to global warming, sea level rises faster than usual due to the melting of the polar ice caps. Ocean acidification occurs because of all the extra carbon dioxide that the ocean absorbs, and it causes seawater to become more acidic (like soda or orange juice). It mainly affects those animals that have calcium carbonate skeletons, especially the plankton at the bottom of the food chain. For more on that read Terry the Pteropod’s post on ocean acidification.
Pollution comes in many forms, including chemical (like fertilizer runoff and industrial waste), and physical (like garbage or silt). Garbage is the most insidious form of pollution in the oceans. It consists mainly of plastic in all shapes and forms. Plastic never biodegrades, and all the plastic that has ever been produced is still around today (unless it was incinerated). For more, read my previous post on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
Overfishing is happening all around the world in all the world’s oceans. Every single country that fishes is catching more fish than can be replaced by the birth rate of new fish. This means that most marine animals eaten as seafood are being fished unsustainably! For more information on overfishing, please watch the documentary The End of the Line.
Once again, I’m out of time. I’ll be back soon to discuss more pressing ocean issues. Please hug a cephalopod today! Or at least abstain from eating us or buying our shells (see Shelley the chambered nautilus’ post), thank you!!
Sigh, I get no respect unless I am dead and my shell is mounted on a human’s wall. My name is Shelley, and I am a chambered nautilus. I am so unlike my sexy and charismatic cephalopod cousins. You have probably heard of them because you eat them! There is the intelligent and camouflage master called the octopus, the swiftly darting and flashing squid (also known as calamari), and the hovering aliens known as cuttlefish. Well, maybe you have not heard of a cuttlefish, but any bird owner is familiar with their cuttlebone, which is used by birds to sharpen their beaks. Once you learn about their puppy-like behavior and the lightning quick manner in which they use their two front tentacles to nab prey, I am sure you will fall in love with them!
Unfortunately I fall into the category of “things that go bump in the night.” I emerge like a vampire from the pitch black depth of 2000 feet (610 meters) to the slightly less pitch dark depth of 328 feet (100 meters) at night to feed.
I look like an upside down snail (another creature that does not get much respect unless it is cooked on a plate in front of a human!) with thin tentacles waving every which way. My shell, which is highly sought after by human collectors, makes me the evolutionary link between the other shell-less cephalopods and the rest of the animal kingdom. As a chambered nautilus I should be flattered by that, but it just makes me feel like a freak in comparison!
But I do love my shell! My many internal shell chambers (hence the “chamber” in my name) are lined with this beautiful pearlescent sheen, and they are what make me so appealing to humans when my shell is sliced in half and used as a decoration. I grow more chambers as I get older and grow larger. These chambers are essential to my well being as I force air in and out of them so I can rise and fall in the water column. I am like a miniature submarine that controls its buoyancy by capturing and releasing water.
I would love to dazzle you with the chambered nautilus’ population numbers across all the oceans, but not only do I not know, but humans have no idea either! They do not even have an estimate. Humans can count imported shells, but like many species that go extinct because of human causes, no one knows that they are killing the last member of a species. So please stop buying chambered nautilus shells before we go extinct! Thank you!
Update: In the United States, the Chambered Nautilus is listed under the Endangered Species Act. Trade of its shell is not being regulated 🙁 so the Chambered Nautilus is vulnerable to overfishing.