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Open Ocean Mama Squid Clings to Bundle of Squirming Bubble Wrap

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Bottom-dwelling squid and octopus usually attach their eggs to a hard surface, but open ocean squid have no such luxury. For many years, scientists thought such squid simply released their eggs to the whims of the currents. Recently, however, Stephanie Bush at Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute discovered that the situation for some open ocean cephalopods living in nutrient-poor environments is not so simple …

If I didn’t know those were eggs, I’d definitely think the second squid had lucked into a Grade A marine bubblewrap deposit.

Bush’s efforts have also contributed to a new exhibit recently opened at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, California — the folks that make the Seafood Watch list/app/wallet card that I use before buying or ordering fish — called “Tentacles: The Astounding Lives of Octopuses, Squid, and Cuttlefish”.

Bush searched through records of remotely-operated vehicle sightings of open-ocean squid to help identify the most likely locations for capturing and collecting them. The exhibit features the fruit of her and others’ efforts — about a dozen cephalopods, some rarely exhibited. If you are very lucky, you might get to see a real, live deep-sea vampire squid (if the squid is feeling up to it — the deep-sea cephalopods have to be rotated in and out of display due to their almost monastic need for dark and quiet) exhibited publicly for the first time ever. If that’s not worth a special trip, I don’t know what is!

To promote the exhibit, they have produced two excellent videos that highlight two of cephalopods premier skills: hunting and disappearing.

First, the hunting:

Yes, those are the ridiculously long and pitifully thrashing arms of the poor shrimp captured by the cuttlefish protruding from its maw in the first scene. Then, the next cuttlefish hypnotically flashing stripes to mesmerize its prey before striking is just downright creepy. Surprised I haven’t seen that one in a sci-fi horror film yet.

And now, the disappearing:

These guys are just delightfully sneaky. You can practically hear them saying, “No octopus here! Just a rock! La la la! Rock rock rock!”

In any case, seeing octopus, cuttlefish and squid in person is always worth the price of admission if you get the chance. If nothing else, you will be mesmerized yourself by the pulsating chromatophores that assist in their dramatic color changes. Just be glad that you’re bigger than them — and separated by an inch of lucite.

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This is also probably the moment to note and mourn the passing of the Invertebrate Exhibit (home to cuttlefish along with other marine and terrestrial invertebrates) at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C., which closed June 22. The announcement was sudden (June 16) and the outcry was swift, with eulogies coming from Bug Girl Gwen Pearson, Echinoblogger Chris Mah, Maura Judkis at the Washington Post, and Anna DeLoach at the BlennyWatcher Blog. Pearson interviewed museum brass and was disturbed to discover that there may not be invertebrates again at the national zoo for decades. A petition to reopen it was circulated here.

I, too, am sad to see it go, and wonder how much of it is another symptom of the dwindling of natural history I blogged about here recently. Zoos, aquariums, and botanic gardens are important places for children who lack access to nature at home or school to get that all important kid-critter time — time spent just silently observing a plant or animal, even if interacting is not possible — and it’s especially hard to find places that display invertebrates. I remember a visit to the Cincinnati Zoo (my first zoo!) as a young child in which the Invert House was among my favorite stops. I can’t pretend the financial pressures they are under don’t exist, but I can question their target. With all the high-maintenance cats, apes, reptiles and birds that live there, that they can’t make room somewhere soon for a few inexpensive but fascinating invertebrates (or find new homes for a few high-dollar vertebrates to make room in the budget for them) speaks volumes. It certainly reflects the widespread discrimination against life without spines or fur.

Jennifer Frazer About the Author: Jennifer Frazer is a AAAS Science Journalism Award-winning science writer. She has degrees in biology, plant pathology/mycology, and science writing, and has spent many happy hours studying life in situ.
Nature Blog Network
Follow on Twitter @JenniferFrazer.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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