Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Creature Feature: Colossal Squid.

OH MY GOD A COLOSSAL SQUID! It's a squid and it's colossal!

The Colossal Squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni) is one of the rarest cephalopods known. It lives in a nice, wide ring around Antarctica, which leads it to sometimes being called the "Antarctic Squid." This creature and the giant squids of the genus Architeuthis are probably what inspired tales of sea monsters like the Norse kraken.

The Greeks had other sea monsters  and a million crazy little islands to pick on.

The term "kraken" should ring a few bells if you have seen any crappy CGI flick at all.  It has become a generic modern term for "that giant-ass cephalopod," regardless of whether or not it should really be part of that particular mythological canon. Sometimes, all we see of a kraken are those giant tentacles wrapping around a ship.

Both the giant squids and Colossal Squid owe their massive size to abyssal gigantism. Because the deep-sea abyss is a high-pressure, isolated region, some creatures have evolved to massive sizes. The exact reasons for this phenomenon are unknown, but some theories include pressure resistance, scarcity or abundance of energy, delayed sexual maturity and/or slower metabolisms. Whatever the reason, the deep-sea abyss has yielded many creatures far bigger than their shallow water counterparts, including sperm whales, spider crabs, and of course giant squids.

Or you can blame Cthulhu, take your pick.

That said, how colossal is "colossal" according to science?

The most complete Colossal Squid is 14 meters long and weighs half a ton. In relative terms, that is at longer than a school bus. In squid terms, the giant squid still gives it a run for its money at 13 meters. "Colossal" is still a better name than "that squid only slightly bigger than the giant squid, but still large enough to make us wet ourselves," so let's forgive science on this one.

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