Top ten animals – #1, Giant Squid

I said there was an invertebrate on my list, and here it is, what I thought was the world’s largest mollusc and the owner of the largest eyeball known to science: the Giant Squid, Architeuthis dux. Even the Latin name has a poetry to it. Except I discovered, while searching out details for this post, that Architeuthis is almost certainly not the largest species of squid. There’s a bulkier species called Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni. Teuthologists (isn’t that a great word) used to think that the Giant Squid was at least longer, but the discovery of a huge but still not fully-grown specimen of Mesonychoteuthis means even that probably isn’t true. You can read a detailed comparison here.

We’re in the realms of dodgy records and informed guess-work. Giant Squid are pretty hard to find, but at least you can get partially digested specimens out of the stomachs of sperm whales. Mesonychoteuthis – which they’re now calling the Colossal Squid – live in the Antarctic oceans, futher south than the whales normally travel, and specimens are considerably rarer than mere gold-dust.

Out of sentimental attachment, I’m going to pick the Giant Squid as my #1 animal, even if it is only 13 metres long. The only photos of a Giant Squid in the wild are from last year. This is one of them:

Pretty much any other photo you ever see will be of a blob of red stuff stretched out on a lab bench. Not ideal viewing conditions. So here’s a photo (from the Cephalopod Page) of some completely different squid, the Caribbean Reef Squid. If you’ve ever been snorkelling or diving in the caribbean, you may have seen these guys.

These are two males and a female. The male in the middle has changed one side of his body to an aggressive ‘zebra display’ aimed at the other male while signalling something different to the female. The way these things change colour is like magic. Octopuses will change both the colour and texture of their skin to improve their camouflage. Can the Giant Squid flash different colours? I don’t suppose anyone knows.

Cephalopods are fabulous. 13m cephalopods are mindboggling. And all that’s quite apart from the fact that, to see them, you’d have to go in a deep-sea submersible; which would fulfil a lifetime ambition in itself, even if I only saw a few comb-jellies and ratfish.

5 Comments

  1. 12 February 2006 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

    Smoogwill be jealous that someone else has the largest eyeball known to science.

    Mostly, though, I think you better be careful. British artists who are intrigued by octopuses can get themselves into awful trouble. I’m thinking of Joshua Handley, the poor Victorian erotic illustrator who ruined his life by going to Japan and seeing a ukiyo-e that looked something like this:

    The shock and resultant fetish pretty much finished his career, and made him miserable, although he supposedly went on to illustrate children’s books under an assumed name (apparently his sea monsters were exceptionally vivid and impressive).

  2. 12 February 2006 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

    Well, so much for my mad image source skilz. But the image is here, anyway, for those unafraid of meeting Handley’s fate. Heh.

  3. Harry
    12 February 2006 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

    eewww…

    I like octopuses, but not that much.

  4. 12 February 2006 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

    Oh, and I almost forgot. For that deep-sea submersible ride, you’ll have to plan a trip to Honduras. The guy who runs this outfit is an American, but they don’t allow such civilian hijinks off of the U.S. coast, I guess.

  5. Harry
    13 February 2006 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    That looks cool.

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