|Scientific name||Architeuthis dux||Weight||150–275 kilograms (330–606 pounds)|
|Pronunciation||jai-uhnt skwid.||Length||12–13 meters (39–43 feet)|
|Classification||Cephalopoda, Oegopsida, Architeuthidae||Location||Worldwide|
The Giant Squid
The giant squid (Architeuthis dux) is the second-largest mollusk species and one of the largest living invertebrates.
This massive squid can grow to lengths of up to 59 feet and weigh close to a ton.
Despite the immense size of this creature, the giant squid has remained an elusive mystery to scientists.
It lives in the inhospitable deep-sea ocean and has only been seen alive a couple of times.
Expectedly, the massive size of the giant squid and its elusive nature make it a perfect candidate for hoaxes and myths.
Throughout history, the giant squid has been depicted as a man-eating sea monster.
The Kraken, a tentacled sea monster as big as an island and capable of sinking an entire ship, is an example of such incredible tales inspired by the giant squid.
While the facts are probably not as colorful, there are several interesting things to know about the giant squid.
In this article, we’ll explore some of these fascinating giant squid facts.
Taxonomy and Classification
The scientific name of the giant squid is Architeuthis dux.
Most experts agree it is the only squid species in the Architeuthidae family.
However, some experts think there may be up to eight species in the Architeuthis genus.
It’s hard to reach a consensus about this since the population and distribution of these squids are hard to track.
The closest living relatives of the giant squid are the four species of squids within the family Neoteuthidae.
Together, these two families form the superfamily Architeuthoidea within the broader squid family.
Giant squids belong to a highly successful group of mollusks referred to as cephalopods.
Other members of this group include the octopus, cuttlefish, and nautilus.
Cephalopods have been around for about 500 million years.
It’s hard to tell precisely when giant squids evolved, but some ancient squids that resemble this squid species have been around since the Cretaceous Period (about 66 million years ago).
The giant squid has a basic anatomy similar to that of other squids.
This is characterized by a torso (also known as the mantle), eight arms, and two long tentacles.
As the name suggests, the giant squid is a massive squid species.
In fact, it is considered the second-largest squid species and one of the largest living invertebrates.
The long arms and tentacles account for most of the giant squid’s impressive length.
This makes it much lighter than the colossal squid despite having a longer body.
The total length of this squid has been estimated to be between 12 and 13 meters (39–43 feet) for females.
There are claims of individuals measuring up to 20 meters (66 feet) or more, but this has not been officially documented.
Males are smaller, with an average length of about 10 meters (33 feet).
The mantle length of the giant squid has been estimated to be between two and five meters (6.7–16 feet).
The mantle houses the squid’s vital organs, including two large eyes and the gills, which it uses to extract oxygen from seawater.
The mantle is also responsible for propelling the squid through the water.
Giant squids have a pair of triangular fins on the upper side of the mantle, which help with stabilization and control while swimming.
The giant squid’s eyes are the largest of any living animal (except the colossal squid), with a total diameter of up to 27 centimeters (11 inches) and a nine centimeters (3.5 inches) diameter for the pupils.
The arms and tentacles are lined with hundreds of spherical suction cups.
Each cup is mounted on a stalk with an average diameter of about two to five centimeters (0.79–1.97 inches).
Like other cephalopods, the bases of the giant squid’s arms and tentacles are arranged in a circular row around the animal’s parrot-like beak, located around the center of its mantle.
Although very little is known about the range and distribution of this squid species, giant squids have a widespread distribution.
They live in oceans worldwide but are most commonly found around the continental and island slopes of the North Atlantic Ocean, especially in places like Newfoundland, Norway, and the northern British Isles.
Giant squids are also found around the oceanic islands of the Azores and Madeira.
In the South Atlantic, this squid lives in the waters around Southern Africa, and in the Pacific, it has been found in the waters of Japan, New Zealand, and Australia.
Giant squids are rarely seen in tropical and polar waters.
Although they’re generally considered a deep sea species, the vertical range of this squid is not well known.
An average diving depth of about 300 to 1,000 meters (980 to 3,280 feet) has been estimated for the giant squid.
Giant squids propel their body through water using jet propulsion.
This involves pushing a jet of water out of their mantle to push their body in the opposite direction.
Like other large squid species, Architeuthis has an ammonium chloride solution running throughout its body.
The solution, which is lighter than seawater, helps the squid to maintain buoyancy in the water.
It performs a similar function as the gas-filled swim bladder found in most fish and other deep-diving animals.
Behavior and Social Structure
The giant squid has a large complex brain and an advanced nervous system.
How this influences their behavior in the wild isn’t well-known since living specimens have not been observed.
The large eyes of this massive squid species are an adaptation that helps them detect light better in the dark, deep-sea environment where they live.
The giant squid’s eyes are probably not advanced enough to identify colors.
Still, they may be able to discern slight differences in tone, which may help find prey and evade predators.
Giant squids also have an organ known as the statocysts, which they use to sense their body orientation and motion in water.
There is little evidence to suggest that giant squids are territorial creatures.
Given the vastness of the ocean and their deep-sea habitat, territoriality is likely not a significant aspect of their behavior.
They’re probably not social either since squids are generally solitary animals.
Individuals might interact occasionally, especially during mating seasons, but such interactions have not been documented for this species.
Giant squids probably don’t migrate seasonally over long distances, too.
However, they may cover vast areas of the ocean in search of food or move from deeper to shallower depths in response to changes in prey availability.
Giant squids are carnivores with a diet mainly consisting of deep-sea fish species.
They eat fish like the orange roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus), shrimps, and other squid species.
Given their size, giant squids may also attack and eat small whales, given the opportunity.
They are likely ambush predators, waiting in the dark ocean depths for potential prey to pass by.
Giant squids have keen eyesight and sensory organs, which they use to detect prey in the water.
They catch prey with their two tentacles.
The serrated sucker rings on the tentacles gives them good suction, which helps them hold on to prey efficiently.
When prey is caught in their tentacles, giant squids bring it towards their powerful beak.
The beak and powerful tongue (radula) help the squid to shred prey into pieces before swallowing them.
Like other large deep-sea species, giant squids are solitary hunters.
The giant squid’s reproductive behavior isn’t well known due to their elusive nature.
They become sexually mature at about three years of age, with males maturing earlier than females.
Experts think giant squids have a maximum lifespan of about five years, and they only reproduce once during this period.
Male giant squids have a single posterior testis, which produces the sperm.
The sperm then moves through a complex system of glands and ducts to become spermatophores.
These are stored in an elongated sac known as the Needham’s sac until it is expelled during mating.
Unlike other squid species, giant squids have no modified arm (hectocotylus) for transferring sperm to the female.
Instead, their sperm packet (spermatophore) is expelled from the animal’s penis, which can be up to seven feet long.
When a giant squid male finds a female (either accidentally or by following a chemical trail), the male injects the sperm packets directly into her body through the arms.
Females produce several eggs at once.
Each egg can be up to five kilograms (11 pounds) in mass, with an average length of about 0.5 to 1.4 millimeters (0.020 to 0.055 inches) and a width of 0.3 to 0.7 millimeters (0.012 to 0.028 inches).
The stages of development of giant squid eggs after they are laid aren’t well-known.
The female releases millions of tiny fertilized eggs into the water.
The eggs are kept together by a gelatinous material, but many don’t survive.
Most of the eggs are eaten by other marine animals, but a few survive into adulthood.
Given their size, giant squids are top predators in the deep marine environment where they live.
They occupy an apex spot in the marine food web, preying on various organisms.
Their main prey include deep-sea fish species and crustaceans.
As apex predators, giant squids help regulate the populations of these prey species, which has a cascading effect on the entire ecosystem.
Their feeding activities influence the composition and balance of their deep-sea home significantly.
Giant squids also compete with other deep-sea species, including other members of their own species.
There have been at least two instances of giant squids found dead, with evidence that it was attacked and killed by another giant squid.
This suggests that the giant squids are either cannibalistic or they kill each other as a result of competition for mates.
Despite their large size, giant squids are sometimes killed by other large predators within their ecosystem.
The exact population and conservation status of giant squids isn’t well known.
Scientists have calculated some estimates based on the average number of giant squid beaks found in the stomachs of sperm whales, the most prolific predator of this squid species.
Based on these observations, experts think sperm whales eat between 4.3 and 131 million giant squids yearly.
This would mean that there are millions of giant squids in the wild, but their exact distribution cannot be accurately determined.
Architeuthis dux is currently listed as a species of least concern by the IUCN, which suggests that they’re currently not at a significant risk of extinction.
Although there is barely any direct evidence of threats to giant squid populations, their long lifecycle and low reproductive rate make them vulnerable to climate change, habitat destruction, overfishing, and pollution.
Since the impact of these threats on giant squid populations hasn’t been adequately assessed, conservationists have not implemented any direct measures to protect the massive cephalopod.
Giant squids may benefit indirectly from efforts to protect and preserve the habitat of other deep-sea animal species.
The enormous size of the giant squid has to be its most notable adaptation.
The beastly size of this creature makes adult individuals less vulnerable to predation from other deep-sea apex predators like the toothed whales and sharks.
Giant squids can also escape predators and capture prey by using their mantle muscles like a siphon to expel water.
This propels their body forward rapidly, a mechanism known as jet propulsion.
The eyes of the giant squid are large and well-developed.
Their huge eyes allow them to detect prey and predators in the water around them, which is vital in the dark, low-light environment where they live.
The long tentacles of the giant squid are muscular and strong.
The tentacles also have suckers lined with toothed rings that help the squid secure its grasp around the prey and pull them towards its powerful chitinous beak.
The beak is sharp and effective for slicing through prey with relative ease.
Although carcasses of this cephalopod have been washed ashore a lot of times in the past in various places, the giant squid has only been seen alive a few times.
In fact, until the 21st century, no live footage of this giant squid had been captured.
Then, in 2001, the first footage of a larval giant squid was captured on film.
A live adult was caught on camera for the first time on 15 January 2002.
This four-meter-long individual was caught near the water surface and not in its natural habitat.
The giant squid was eventually observed in the wild for the first time on 30 September 2004 by researchers in Japan.
The teams had been working for nearly two years to find the giant squid and were able to observe and capture the actual hunting behaviors of adult giant squids, which was only a matter of speculation up until that point.
The elusive nature of the giant squid and its impressive size have made it quite a terrifying figure with an enigmatic identity.
The Kraken, a legendary monster in Norse mythology, may have been inspired by sightings of these massive cephalopods.
In folklore, the Kraken was a legendary sea monster known for its immense size and ability to drag entire ships and sailors to the depths.
This creature’s mythology has also inspired numerous other tales and stories across different cultures.
The giant squid has also been referenced directly in art and literature, such as Moby-Dick and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Dr. No, Beast, and Sphere.
So far, very little is known about the habits and behavior of the giant squid due to the challenging nature of its habitat.
This leaves a lot of research gaps and room for future discoveries.
DNA analysis has played a significant role in identifying giant squids and their relationships within the cephalopod group.
In the future, advances in genetics studies may also help scientists identify new species of this creature and trace its evolutionary history.
Advances in deep-sea exploration technology may also lead to more frequent discoveries of giant squids.
These encounters will provide opportunities to gather valuable data about their behavior and genetic samples for further research.
The massive giant squid is arguably one of the most fascinating deep-sea creatures.
The largest or second-largest invertebrate species live in temperate to subtropical marine waters worldwide.
The species plays an essential role as an apex predator of deep-sea fish and crustacean species, with very few natural predators.
Despite the size of this massive squid, there’s still a lot we are yet to find out about it.
Hopefully, future research and advancement in exploratory technology will help us learn more about one of the Earth’s most fascinating and enigmatic creatures in the coming years.