The colossal squid is a thing out of nightmares, a massive, many-tentacled beast that – thankfully – only washes up near human dwellings occasionally as a reminder that mankind has it pretty good up on the surface. They’re usually pretty mangled by the time they reach the surface, also, but a new specimen – almost perfectly preserved – popped up recently, and scientists took to their scalpels to slice it up and get a good look at it.
The latest colossal squid was actually discovered in December, when fishermen near Antarctica reeled in the many-armed monster. That specimen was only the second intact adult colossal squid ever caught, and it was put on ice for about eight months.
As Vox notes, the squid is massive, weighing in at 770 pounds and measuring 11 feet long. It was already dead, so there was no need to – as a sensible person might – kill it with fire. Instead, it was transported by forklift to a cold storage facility, where it sat until recently, when a team from Auckland University of Technology headed over to Te Papa museum in Wellington to slice it up. For Science!
They found that the newest colossal squid specimen is in fact a female, and that it was carrying eggs at the time the fishermen caught it in the Antarctic. They also found that the squid’s colossal eyes had been perfectly preserved as it surfaced. That’s novel because squid eyes typically don’t survive the trip to the surface. That’s horrifying because the squid’s eyes are almost 14 inches in diameter.
That’s bigger than a dinner plate. It’s understandable if you’ve run away by this point.
Ensuring that you won’t sleep tonight isn’t the only reason a colossal squid’s eyes are that big; they also allow the squid to see well in the low light of the deep ocean.
Other colossal squid-based nightmare fuel includes the fact that they have a donut-shaped brain that actually surrounds their esophaguses. The fact that food has to go past the brain is, yes, proof that they’re the creation of some madness-inducing Eldritch god, but it’s also the reason the colossal squid’s beak has to be as strong as it is.
In addition to the torus-brain, the colossal squid also has three hearts – one to pump blood around the body and two for its gills. They’ve also, of course, got those big, meaty tentacles, each covered in rotating hooks and suckers and other horrors.
Even though scientists have had the opportunity to dissect a few colossal squid specimens, we still don’t know a ton about them.
“The only thing that’s known so far,” one scientist told the Sydney Morning Herald, “is that it is a top predator, but we don’t know what it eats.”
The newest specimen will shed a bit of light on the colossal squid’s diet, as it was retrieved with its stomach intact. That stomach still contained bits of whatever the squid had eaten before it died. Those contents will help scientists to get a better view of what the colossal squid’s life is like down there in the darkest depths of the ocean.
Some among us, though, would settle for science answering the most pressing question about the colossal squid: can we be certain that these surfaced specimens aren’t just failed scouts from an attempt at a surface invasion? Can we be sure that they will stay down there?
[Image via From Quarks to Stars.]