On a recent trip to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, I was faced with a display of a giant squid that was, well, GIANT. As a school field trip chaperone, I was quickly peppered with all sorts of questions about the giant squid from the knowledge-seeking students. What I learned and shared with the students was fascinating. Here is everything that YOU need to know about the giant squid.
How giant is the giant squid, really?
Giant squids can be more than 40 feet long, if you measure all the way out to the tip of their two long feeding tentacles. As the students noted, the main body of the giant squid isn’t so big (and not at all impressive). It’s the long, long tentacles and arms that make them so giant. If you can imagine eight arms and two giant tentacles all floating in the ocean in all directions—you can get the sense of how immense they are. The largest giant squid ever recorded by scientists was almost 43 feet (13 meters) long and may have weighed almost a ton.
Where does the giant squid live?
Giant squid live deep underwater—in the Twilight Zone—at depths between 1,000 feet and about 2,000 feet. Since the giant squid live down deep in the ocean, there isn’t very much that we know about them. We have seen little of the giant squid in the wild. Most of what we know about them comes from the bodies of dead squid that have washed ashore or been pulled up in fishermen’s nets.
Do they squirt ink?
The giant squid is a mollusk and a member of the cephalopod class, which includes the octopus and other squids. As such, nearly all cephalopods such as squid can squirt ink as an escape measure when threatened.
This ability is possible through the use of the squid’s ink sacs and water propulsion.
There is little to no video footage or research of giant squid, because they are so elusive and live in the deep, deep depths of the ocean. We can only assume they squirt ink because they are cephalopods and possess the ability to do so.
Are they dangerous?
Some believe that the terrible Kraken of ancient myth may have been partly based on the giant squid. But, unless you find yourself swimming around the Twilight Zone—you should fear not—you are not in danger. Considering recreational scuba diving limits only go to 130 feet, and giant squid live at depths 10x deeper, odds are you’ll never encounter one.
What’s going on with their eyes? They seem giant, too.
Giant squid have the largest eye in the animal kingdom. Again, this is because the giant squid live in the Twilight Zone. Because it is so dark, they need large eyes to pick up any tiny amount of light that passes through to that depth. This helps with hunting prey and avoiding predators.
The size of their eyes can be up to ten inches in diameter. Some people describe it as the size of a dinner plate. To put this into comparison for you, the largest animal on Earth—the blue whale—has an eye diameter of six inches.
How can we help the giant squid?
There is so still much we can learn about the giant squid—which is one of the many reasons that we should continue working together to protect their habitat.
Who knows what we will discover about them next?
We won’t find out if we don’t protect the ocean and the animals that call it home.