Giant squid
Architeuthis dux

The giant squid (Architeuthis dux ) is a species of deep-ocean dwelling squid in the family Architeuthidae. It can grow to a tremendous size, offering an example of deep-sea gigantism: recent estimates put the maximum size at around 12–13 m (39–43 ft) for females and 10 m (33 ft) for males, from the posterior fins to the tip of the two long tentacles (longer than the colossal squid at an estimated 9–10 m (30–33 ft), but substantially lighter, due to the tentacles making up most of the length). The mantle of the giant squid is about 2 m (6 ft 7 in) long (more for females, less for males), and the length of the squid excluding its tentacles (but including head and arms) rarely exceeds 5 m (16 ft). Claims of specimens measuring 20 m (66 ft) or more have not been scientifically documented.

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The number of different giant squid species has been debated, but recent genetic research suggests that only one species exists.

The first images of the animal in its natural habitat were taken in 2004 by a Japanese team.

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In Culture

The elusive nature of the giant squid and its foreign appearance, often perceived as terrifying, have firmly established its place in the human imagination. Representations of the giant squid have been known from early legends of the kraken through books such as Moby-Dick and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea on to novels such as Ian Fleming's Dr. No, Peter Benchley's Beast (adapted as a film called The Beast ), and Michael Crichton's Sphere (adapted as a film), and modern animated television programs.

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In particular, the image of a giant squid locked in battle with a sperm whale is a common one, although the squid is the whale's prey and not an equal combatant.

In 2021 a 13-metre (43 ft) statue of a giant squid was constructed in the Japanese town of Noto. It was widely criticised for being funded with coronavirus relief money.

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Like all squid, a giant squid has a mantle (torso), eight arms, and two longer tentacles (the longest known tentacles of any cephalopod). The arms and tentacles account for much of the squid's great length, making it much lighter than its chief predator, the sperm whale. Scientifically documented specimens have masses of hundreds, rather than thousands, of kilograms.

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The inside surfaces of the arms and tentacles are lined with hundreds of subspherical suction cups, 2 to 5 cm (0.79 to 1.97 in) in diameter, each mounted on a stalk. The circumference of these suckers is lined with sharp, finely serrated rings of chitin. The perforation of these teeth and the suction of the cups serve to attach the squid to its prey. It is common to find circular scars from the suckers on or close to the head of sperm whales that have attacked giant squid.

Each tentacular club is divided into three regions—the carpus ("wrist"), manus ("hand") and dactylus ("finger"). The carpus has a dense cluster of cups, in six or seven irregular, transverse rows. The manus is broader, closer to the end of the club, and has enlarged suckers in two medial rows. The dactylus is the tip. The bases of all the arms and tentacles are arranged in a circle surrounding the animal's single, parrot-like beak, as in other cephalopods.

Giant squid have small fins at the rear of their mantles used for locomotion. Like other cephalopods, they are propelled by jet—by pulling water into the mantle cavity, and pushing it through the siphon, in gentle, rhythmic pulses. They can also move quickly by expanding the cavity to fill it with water, then contracting muscles to jet water through the siphon. Giant squid breathe using two large gills inside the mantle cavity. The circulatory system is closed, which is a distinct characteristic of cephalopods. Like other squid, they contain dark ink used to deter predators.

The giant squid has a sophisticated nervous system and complex brain, attracting great interest from scientists. It also has the largest eyes of any living creature except perhaps the colossal squid—up to at least 27 cm (11 in) in diameter, with a 9 cm (3.5 in) pupil (only the extinct ichthyosaurs are known to have had larger eyes). Large eyes can better detect light (including bioluminescent light), which is scarce in deep water. The giant squid probably cannot see colour, but it can probably discern small differences in tone, which is important in the low-light conditions of the deep ocean.

Giant squid and some other large squid species maintain neutral buoyancy in seawater through an ammonium chloride solution which is found throughout their bodies and is lighter than seawater. This differs from the method of flotation used by most fish, which involves a gas-filled swim bladder. The solution tastes somewhat like salty liquorice/salmiak and makes giant squid unattractive for general human consumption.

Like all cephalopods, giant squid use organs called statocysts to sense their orientation and motion in water. The age of a giant squid can be determined by "growth rings" in the statocyst's statolith, similar to determining the age of a tree by counting its rings. Much of what is known about giant squid age is based on estimates of the growth rings and from undigested beaks found in the stomachs of sperm whales.

The giant squid is the second-largest mollusc and one of the largest of all extant invertebrates. It is only exceeded by the colossal squid, Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni, which may have a mantle nearly twice as long. Several extinct cephalopods, such as the Cretaceous vampyromorphid Tusoteuthis, the Cretaceous coleoid Yezoteuthis, and the Ordovician nautiloid Cameroceras may have grown even larger.

Giant squid size, particularly total length, has often been exaggerated. Reports of specimens reaching and even exceeding 20 m (66 ft) are widespread, but no specimens approaching this size have been scientifically documented. According to giant squid expert Steve O'Shea, such lengths were likely achieved by greatly stretching the two tentacles like elastic bands.

Based on the examination of 130 specimens and of beaks found inside sperm whales, giant squids' mantles are not known to exceed 2.25 m (7 ft 4.6 in). Including the head and arms, but excluding the tentacles, the length very rarely exceeds 5 m (16 ft). Maximum total length, when measured relaxed post mortem, is estimated at 12 m (39 ft) or 13 m (43 ft) for females and 10 m (33 ft) for males from the posterior fins to the tip of the two long tentacles.

Giant squid exhibit sexual dimorphism. Maximum weight is estimated at 275 kg (606 lb) for females and 150 kg (330 lb) for males.

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The giant squid is widespread, occurring in all of the world's oceans. It is usually found near continental and island slopes from the North Atlantic Ocean, especially Newfoundland, Norway, the northern British Isles, Spain and the oceanic islands of the Azores and Madeira, to the South Atlantic around southern Africa, the North Pacific around Japan, and the southwestern Pacific around New Zealand and Australia. Specimens are rare in tropical and polar latitudes.

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The vertical distribution of giant squid is incompletely known, but data from trawled specimens and sperm whale diving behavior suggest it spans a large range of depths, possibly 300–1,000 metres (980–3,280 ft).

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Giant squid habitat map
Giant squid habitat map

Habits and Lifestyle

Diet and Nutrition

Recent studies have shown giant squid feed on deep-sea fish and other squid species. They catch prey using the two tentacles, gripping it with serrated sucker rings on the ends. Then they bring it toward the powerful beak, and shred it with the radula (tongue with small, file-like teeth) before it reaches the esophagus. They are believed to be solitary hunters, as only individual giant squid have been caught in fishing nets. Although the majority of giant squid caught by trawl in New Zealand waters have been associated with the local hoki (Macruronus novaezelandiae ) fishery, hoki do not feature in the squid's diet. This suggests giant squid and hoki prey on the same animals.

Mating Habits

Little is known about the reproductive cycle of giant squid. They are thought to reach sexual maturity at about three years old; males reach sexual maturity at a smaller size than females. Females produce large quantities of eggs, sometimes more than 5 kg (11 lb), that average 0.5 to 1.4 mm (0.020 to 0.055 in) long and 0.3 to 0.7 mm (0.012 to 0.028 in) wide. Females have a single median ovary in the rear end of the mantle cavity and paired, convoluted oviducts, where mature eggs pass exiting through the oviducal glands, then through the nidamental glands. As in other squid, these glands produce a gelatinous material used to keep the eggs together once they are laid.

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In males, as with most other cephalopods, the single, posterior testis produces sperm that move into a complex system of glands that manufacture the spermatophores. These are stored in the elongate sac, or Needham's sac, that terminates in the penis from which they are expelled during mating. The penis is prehensile, over 90 cm (35 in) long, and extends from inside the mantle. The two ventral arms on a male giant squid are hectocotylized, which means they are specialized to facilitate the fertilization of the female's eggs.

How the sperm is transferred to the egg mass is much debated, as giant squid lack the hectocotylus used for reproduction in many other cephalopods. It may be transferred in sacs of spermatophores, called spermatangia, which the male injects into the female's arms. This is suggested by a female specimen recently found in Tasmania, having a small subsidiary tendril attached to the base of each arm.

Post-larval juveniles have been discovered in surface waters off New Zealand, with plans to capture more and maintain them in an aquarium to learn more about the creature. Young giant squid specimens were found off the coast of southern Japan in 2013 and confirmed through genetic analysis.

Another juvenile, approximately 3.7 metres long, was encountered and filmed alive in the harbour in the Japanese city of Toyama on 24 December 2015; after being filmed and viewed by a large number of spectators, including a diver who entered the water to film the squid up close, it was guided out of the harbour into Toyama Bay by the diver.

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1. Giant squid Wikipedia article -
2. Giant squid on The IUCN Red List site -

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