From The Editor’s Desk: Giant Squid=Awesomesauce

In the following post I will enumerate the many ways in which current science repeatedly demonstrates that giant squids are awesomesauce.

Awesome: (adj) amazingawe-inspiringawfulawing (inspiring awe or admiration or wonder) “New York is an amazing city”; “the Grand Canyon is an awe-inspiring sight”; “the awesome complexity of the universe”; “this sea, whose gently awful stirrings seem to speak of some hidden soul beneath”- Melville; “Westminster Hall’s awing majesty, so vast, so high, so silent”

Awesomesauce: (n) Something that is more awesome than awesome. It is a modifier of your basic awesome into a more awesome version.

Giant Squid or Giant Squids?

Tonight when you go to bed consider that 20 different giant squids are lurking about.  Well maybe not your bed.  But if your bed was in the deep ocean then there could be 20 different giant squids mucking around.

In 1857 Japetus Steenstrup, a Danish biologist scientifically named several squids and octopods in the shortly titled Hectoctyldannelsen hos Octopodslaegterne Argonauta og Tremoctopus, oplyst ved Iagttagelse af lignende Dannelser hos Blacksprutterne i Almindelighed. Among those species Steenstrup named was the Giant Squid or Architeuthis dux. The scientific name comes from the Latin archi- or Greek arkhi- meaning chief or most important, the Greek word teuthis for squid; and the Latin dux meaning leader.  So literally the name Architeuthis dux translates to “most important squid leader”.  That is scientifically an awesome name.

Since 1857, everyone wanted to name a new giant squid species. And who wouldn’t because they are awesome? Thus to date 20 species of giant squid are named.  But quite frankly not everyone buys into this gaggle of giant squid.   Nesis in the 1980’s suggested that only three valid species exist, Architeuthis dux in the North Atlantic Ocean, Architeuthis martensi in the North Pacific, and Arciteuthis sanctipauli in the Southern Ocean. Of course, no one knows for sure.  The key would be in the genes and giant squid expert Steve O’Shea commented on a thread that his lab’s genetic research indicated that “in short, no [genetic] difference between any of the regions (no evidence for recognizing more than one species).” So one Giant Squid distributed across the entire globe equals awesome.

In close and personal with the Giant Squid


The anatomy of Architeuthis is nothing short of awesome.  The key features of the Giant Squid, besides its size, are small ovoid fins at the end of body, i.e. mantle, eight very long arms, two exceptionally long tentacles, and a distinctive tentacular club structure.  A tentacular club is the end portion of the tentacle that is expanded, usually covered in suckers, and used for grasping.  The tentacles have 4 rows of suckers and divided into three distinct regions.  The arms are covered in 2 series of suckers.  With regard to the suckers, they are shaped like a suction cup on a stalk.  The perimeter of the sucker is rimmed with a sharply toothed ring of chitin.  These can cause quite a nasty cut and several sperm whales bear the marks of the Giant Squid.  Tentacular clubs with chitin ringed suckers is a scientific recipe for awesome.

Like other squids, Giant Squids possess a siphon, a muscular funnel that extends off the mantle.  A squid can propel itself by projecting water through this siphon, which is extremely flexible and can be aimed to control movement.  Water is expelled from inside the mantle through the siphon by contraction of the muscular mantle.  This siphon also has a valve on it to prevent water from back flowing between squirts.   With a jet-like siphon that can be aimed, Giant Squids are awesome.

You may be aware that the Giant Squid is dark reddish in color, but the internal surface of the mantle and even some of the organs are also red pigmented. Because they are so awesome they do not need photophores or bioluminescent organs that their less awesome kin require.

Both eyes of the Giant Squid have adjustable lenses and a dark iris but lack a cornea. The eyes are enormous, the size of dinner plates, and are the largest eyes in the entire animal kingdom.  Blue whales can suck it with their tiny and most definitely less awesome eyes.

Giant Squid: Voracious predator or cuddly pet?

Look inside the Giant Squid and you will find mainly organs dedicated to the Giant Squid’s two favorite activities, eating and loving.  The digestive system begins with formidable chitinous beak.  The half-foot long beak is surrounded by a muscular mass that can both protrude and rotate the beak.  The upper beak with downward point possesses a perfect cutting edge with a lower beak to tear prey apart.  The esophagus moves chunks of prey onward toward the stomach.   A set of massive salivary glands and a single digestive gland produce enough enzymes to digest a subway car.  Yeah, that’s awesome. And to demonstrate the Giant Squid’s dedication to eating, I deliver exhibit A: the esophagus of this beast passes directly through the middle of its brain.

What do Giant Squid eat? Misbehaved children, subway cars, fish, and other squids. Juvenile squid appear to take smaller less feisty prey low on the food chain while adults feed larger prey at the top food chain.  Gut contents have included: 10 species of fish, 1 clam, some tunicates, 3 types of crustacean, and 5 species of squid. Genetic screening of gut contents from Architeuthis yielded of evidence of both the fish blue grenadier and other Giant Squid.  That’s right, cannibalism is also known among giant squid.

Some debate abounds about the kind of predator Architeuthis is.  Some scientists believe evidence supports the idea that Giant Squid sit in the dark depths hovering until unsuspecting prey draw close to the tentacular clubs which quickly draw it to the mouth.  On this thread, Steve O’Shea suggest that how ammonium concentrates in certain tissues, which would make these tissues more buoyant, indicating the squid faces 45˚ downward letting tentacles hang down to catch unsuspecting prey.  On the other hand, Japanese scientists caught photos (above) of a Giant Squid actively attacking a baited hook.  More evidence is needed, but clearly if you are prey of Giant Squid you’re humped either way. And that is a win in the awesome contest.

How do Giant Squid get sexual healing?

Many of you will never have a late night sexual encounter with the world’s largest invertebrate and that’s probably for the best.  The part of the mantle cavity that is not filled up with digestive gland and stomach is gonad.  Females can produce up to 11 pounds and 1,000,000 eggs at time.  The males…well…let’s just say they scare other invertebrates with their big winkies.  The meter long male organ can hydraulically implant spermatophores into females.  That’s right, hydraulically implanted.  Male Giant Squid appear not to be too discerning with his arms as both males and females have been found embedded with spermatophores. You can think of the spermatophores as parasitic sperm packets.  The female likely releases a giant egg mass through her funnel that she then cradles with her arms.  Spermatophores embedded in the female’s arms likely release the stored sperm directly onto the egg mass.

Given the incidence of cannibalism, sexual encounters are likely to come away with partners fairly battered.  Given the distribution and concentration of sexually mature individuals collected to date, Giant Squid appear to come together at particular breeding grounds. Just make sure you are no where near when this awesomeness happens.

How big is the Giant Squid?

Really big.  Early accounts of the size of the great beast regaled stories of 60 ft long specimens.  But it is unlikely these were accurate measurements. The longest scientifically measured specimen had a total length with tentacles of 42 feet and mantle length of 7.4 feet.   Weight of a mature individual is somewhere between 400-500 pounds.  Interestingly, Giant Squid display sexual dimorphism, i.e. the sexes are anatomically different, with the females being much larger than the males. So, because Giant Squid can reach sizes approximately the length of school bus… they reach the height of awesome.

Number of specimens with known lengths. Measurements from Search For the Giant Squid by Ellis. Measurements over 45 feet are older and likely to be unrealistic.

The age of Giant Squid is not known with certainty.  The layers of statoliths, bony masses that reside within balance organs, are secreted daily in shallow water squids.  If the same occurs in Giant Squid, a big unknown, then full adult size would be reached in just three years.  Consider that humans take 5 times as long to reach a third of Giant Squid’s size, and you can appreciate that their growth rates would be a record holder in the animal kingdom.  So what did you do this week? Because a Giant Squid just grew four pounds!  You are not as awesome as Giant Squid. Science says so.

Where can I find my own Giant Squid?

It is not likely you will catch a live Giant Squid unless you are Japanese scientist.  No you will have to relegate yourself to damaged specimens that drift ashore, a freshly caught specimen caught as bycatch by fishermen, or a beak from the stomach of sperm whale – the Giant Squid’s only known predator.  Given our knowledge of sperm whale foraging behavior and fishing net captures, Giant Squid likely dwell at depths between 1000-3000 feet.

When Giant Squid are not being awesome and hanging at the beach drinking mojitos, where can you find one? Architeuthis is usually found over continental and island slopes. In the North Atlantic specimens are known from around Newfoundland, Norway, northern British Isles and the oceanic islands of the Azores and Madeira. In the South Atlantic they are found in southern African waters, in the North Pacific around Japan, in the southwestern Pacific around New Zealand and Australia and circumpolar in the Southern Ocean.

So in conclusion Architeuthis=AWESOMESAUCE

References:

Lordan, C., Collins, M., & Perales-Raya, C. (2009). Observations on Morphology, Age and Diet of Three Architeuthis Caught Off the West Coast of Ireland in 1995 Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, 78 (03) DOI: 10.1017/S0025315400044866

K. S. BOLSTAD, & S. O’SHEA (2004). Gut contents of a giant squid Architeuthis dux (Cephalopoda: Oegopsida) from New Zealand waters Bolstad & O’Shea—Giant squid:, 31, 15-21

Rosa, R., Pereira, J., & Nunes, M. (2004). Biochemical composition of cephalopods with different life strategies, with special reference to a giant squid, Architeuthis sp. Marine Biology, 146 (4), 739-751 DOI: 10.1007/s00227-004-1477-5

Martina A. C. Roeleveld (202). TENTACLE MORPHOLOGY OF THE GIANT SQUID ARCHITEUTHIS FROM THE NORTH ATLANTIC AND PACIFIC OCEANS BULLETIN OF MARINE SCIENCE, 71, 725-737

Roeleveld, M. (2000). Giant squid beaks: implications for systematics Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the UK, 80 (1), 185-187 DOI: 10.1017/S0025315499001769

Aldrich, F., & Aldrich, M. (1968). On regeneration of the tentacular arm of the giant squid Architeuthis dux Steenstrup (Decapoda, Architeuthidae) Canadian Journal of Zoology, 46 (5), 845-847 DOI: 10.1139/z68-120

Landman, N., Cochran, J., Cerrato, R., Mak, J., Roper, C., & Lu, C. (2004). Habitat and age of the giant squid ( Architeuthis sanctipauli ) inferred from isotopic analyses Marine Biology, 144 (4), 685-691 DOI: 10.1007/s00227-003-1245-y

Kubodera, T., & Mori, K. (2005). First-ever observations of a live giant squid in the wild Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 272 (1581), 2583-2586 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2005.3158

Hoving, H., Roeleveld, M., Lipinski, M., & Melo, Y. (2004). Reproductive system of the giant squid Architeuthis in South African waters Journal of Zoology, 264 (2), 153-169 DOI: 10.1017/S0952836904005710

Ángel Guerra, Alejandro B. Rodríguez-Navarro, Ángel F. González, Chris S. Romanek, Pedro Álvarez-Lloret and Graham J. Pierce (2010). Life-history traits of the giant squid Architeuthis dux revealed from stable isotope signatures recorded in beaks ICES Journal of Marine Science

Deagle, B. (2005). Genetic Screening for Prey in the Gut Contents from a Giant Squid (Architeuthis sp.) Journal of Heredity, 96 (4), 417-423 DOI: 10.1093/jhered/esi036

Clarke, M., & Pascoe, P. (2009). Cephalopod Species in the Diet of a Sperm Whale (Physeter Catodon) Stranded at Penzance, Cornwall Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, 77 (04) DOI: 10.1017/S0025315400038819

Roper, Clyde F.E.; Boss, Kenneth J. (1982). The Giant squid American Scientist, 246, 82-89

Dr. M (1605 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, created to facilitate research to address fundamental questions in evolutionary science. He has conducted deep-sea research for 11 years and published over 40 papers in the area. He has participated in dozens of expeditions taking him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses mainly on marine systems and particularly the biology of body size, biodiversity, and energy flow. He focuses often on deep-sea systems as a natural test of the consequences of energy limitation on biological systems. He is the author and chief editor of Deep-Sea News, a popular deep-sea themed blog, rated the number one ocean blog on the web and winner of numerous awards. Craig’s popular writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web.





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8 comments on “From The Editor’s Desk: Giant Squid=Awesomesauce
  1. Hey, I caught a dead one in the North Pacific off California! (though ID as Architeuthis not officially confirmed). I’m pretty sure getting to say “CAPTAIN! FOLLOW THAT GIANT DEAD SQUID!” will be the pinnacle of my scientific career. Photos, video

  2. Archie FTW! I would just like to point out that many of the Giant Squid qualities you highlight are general enough to suggest that perhaps All Squid Are Awesomesauce.

    An alternative answer to the question of where I can find my own giant squid is to be a kiwi scientist and hunt through the plankton for a baby giant squid.

    But maybe that’s cheating.

  3. My friend Moira created the neologism, “awesomesauce” nearly 2 years ago. At least Arvind and I are pretty sure she did. I think it should appear thus in your article: “awesomesauce®”, and that perhaps you should give Moira a cookie or a sucky-candy or something? It seems like it would be the right thing to do, lest you sink into moral turpitude.

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