Researchers working out of California’s Monterey Bay have released footage from their use of “Crittercams” attached to one of the Pacific Ocean’s most elusive creatures: the Humboldt squid.
Also known as the jumbo flying squid, the cephalopod can grow to more than six feet in length and about a hundred pounds in weight. The Humboldt squid has eight arms, two tooth-studded tentacles, and a parrot-like beak for breaking up prey.
Anecdotes and studies have even found the squid to cannibalise: A marine biologist working out of Mexico analysed the stomach contents of more than 500 Humboldt squid, and found evidence that they’d eaten their peers in a quarter of those cases.
The Crittercam was made by National Geographic to offer “rare views of the private lives of animals.”
In this case, the technology was attached to an off-the-shelf swim shirt that researchers at Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove, California then put over the squid’s main part — sometimes known as the “tube.” Researchers attracted the squid with glowing jig, capturing three of them before fitting them with cameras.
Humboldt squid hunt in shoals as many as 1,200 strong, so the usable footage — of which researchers got about an hour — provides some rich (and pretty scary) moments of the tentacled predators interacting with one another. One of the three squid was released with a light to capture footage at night, which attracted attacks from its peers, Rosen said.
One topic of curiosity is their communication system. The Humboldt squid is capable of quickly changing the colour of its skin thanks to special cells called chromatophores, which is Greek for “colour-bearing.” The center of each chromatophore contains a small sac of variously coloured fluid. The squid flexes certain muscles to change its colour and pattern.
The footage here is black and white, but it’s still plain to see that the Humboldt squid can change colours in the blink of an eye. Here a few specimen flash from white (their colour at rest) to red.
“The colour of their muscle is actually white underneath their skin, so when they relax the chromatophores that’s actually the muscle underneath,” Hannah Rosen, one of the authors of a study analysing the footage, told Business Insider.
Rosen calls any conclusions on what the creatures are “saying” speculative, but the researchers are confident that it is indeed a form of communication, “simply because it’s such an attention grabbing display, and we only ever observed it with other squid nearby,” she said.
The National Geographic’s presentation of the research reports that the Humboldt squid’s colour changes could serve to assert dominance, attract mates, or even (as the study suggests) mimic the “reflections of down-welled light in the water column” as a means to camouflage.
Future studies using the Crittercam could reveal more about the Humboldt squid. The Smithsonian National Zoological Park, for instance, notes that the creature’s eggs have never been observed in nature.
“It’s kind of a win win for the both of us,” Rosen said about her team’s use of National Geographic’s camera, “because we get some great data for science and they get good footage.”
The whole video is just incredible. See it below, or scoot on over to National Geographic.
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