How The Giant Squid Uses Tentacles For Hunting
Living in the great unknown depths of the oceans happens to be a school bus-sized gelatinous creature with long suckered arms, eyes as big as cantaloupes, and a beak that could fit in the palm of your hand. Who is it? Your friendly neighborhood giant squid, of course! I’m talking about the largest invertebrate in the world. An animal that has captured our imaginations since Jules Verne made them part of pop culture in his book 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The Giant Squid (Architeuthis Dux)!
Known as the Kraken, sea monster, and devil fish, the Giant Squid is probably saddened by its media portrayal. So, it remains lurking in the depths; silently wishing it could come up and say “hi” without scaring the bejesus out of people.
In reality, these “monsters” are notoriously elusive. They roam the depths for snacks in the form of fish, jellyfish, and other squids. Plus, every once and a while, getting into wrestling matches with sperm whales.
What’s life really like for a massive creature of the deep?
Which deep ocean do they live in?
What do they eat?
How do they hunt?
Read on to learn about the Giant Squid, including some incredible observations made in their natural habitat. All thanks to technological advances in recent years!
You can make up your own mind if the Giant Squid is as scary as all the movies and books make it out to be. Or if it’s just an extra-large squid with an unjust reputation.
Fun facts about the Giant Squid!
The Giant Squid (Architeuthis dux) can grow up to a whopping 12-13 meters (39-43 feet). That is HALF a basketball court or the length of a bus! Pretty impressive growth rate when their lifespan is only around 5-6 years.
They inhabit the twilight zone at depths of around 200-900 meters (650 – 3000 feet). The squids prefer colder waters! They have mostly been found washed up on beaches in Japan, New Zealand, Spain, South Africa, and Canada.
🐙 Fun Fact 🐙
There are two Giant Squids displayed at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History that got there through the help of the U.S. Navy and Air Force. In 2005, they were called in to help transport two giant squid that washed up on the coast of Spain to Washington D.C.
It was called Operation Calamari!
What’s the difference between a regular squid and the Giant Squid?
They look like most squid with a mantle, eight arms, suckers, and two longer tentacles…just super-sized! That includes their eyes which are as big as dinner plates!
They are located on either side of the squid’s head, giving them binocular vision and the ability to judge distances. In the pitch-black waters they call home, their enormous eyes come in handy for picking up small amounts of light. It’s most commonly bioluminescence.
🐙 Fun Fact 🐙
Ever heard of deep-sea gigantism? It is the tendency for deep-sea dwelling critters to become large-scale versions of their shallow water relatives. The Giant Squid is a perfect example of this, but they aren’t the only ones!
Other gargantuan examples include:
- Giant Isopods
- Giant Ostracods (seed shrimp)
- Japanese Spider Crabs
- Giant Oarfish
- Giant Sea Spiders
The environments that harbor these giants aren’t the most accessible to humans, making it a hard topic to study, but scientists believe gigantism comes about through:
- Colder temperatures
- Limited food availability
- Having hardly any predators
- Increased dissolved oxygen concentrations!
Where does the Giant Squid live?
We still have so much to learn about these squids, and it’s incredible that we know anything at all when you think about where they live!
The first records of the Giant Squid come from Denmark in the 1500s, where they were described as fish having “a head like a man and wearing a monk’s cloak.”
The first one to be displayed was by Reverend Moses Harvey of Newfoundland in 1873, who proudly exhibited it in the middle of his living room in a sponge bath. (By then, it had correctly been identified as a squid).
Since then, it’s been sensationalized in film and writing! For years, the only scientific data gathered were from specimens that would wash up dead on the shoreline or from chunks found in the bellies of whales.
It’s really no wonder people allowed their imagination to run wild when it came to this gigantic organism!
Architeuthis dux, where are youuuuuuu?
Thanks to the speedy improvements in technology over the last couple of decades, our ability to peek behind the inky curtain and observe the Giant Squid in its natural habitat has become a reality.
In 2004, a still camera with a strobe light system developed by Japanese scientists was installed at a depth of 900 meters (3,000 feet). It was placed off the coast of Ogasawara (a cluster of islands about 1000 km south of mainland Japan).
It was the first to capture a picture sequence of a Giant Squid attack, although it, unfortunately, missed the start!
Fast forward to 2012, at the same location, two unmanned submersibles with ultra-sensitive HD cameras successfully captured the first video footage of the Giant Squid attacking an imitation bioluminescent jellyfish.
Imagine how exciting that footage would have been to see for the first time!! Especially when you take into consideration that the 23 minutes of footage that was captured came out of 246 hours of observation taken over a total of 55 deep dives.
That data doesn’t come easy folks, but it did result in two documentaries and a deeper understanding of how this squid lives.
🐙 Fun Fact 🐙
Back in 2019, Dr. Nathan Robinson and Dr. Edie Widder were the first to ever capture live footage of the Giant Squid in US waters! This is only the second time the giant squid has been filmed in the wild. How cool is that?!?
Watch the video down bvelow to get a sneak peek at what they found and saw!
Get ready to witness Giant Squid Hunting
The latest and greatest Giant Squid footage was collected in 2021 at a depth of 800 meters in Australian waters by an international team of scientists, engineers, and a camera crew. It captured the very first full sequence of Giant Squid hunting!
Using infrared LEDs (which squid are blind to) was instrumental in observing the Giant Squid’s natural behavior. The incredible video footage confirmed that they are fast visual predators. They lock onto prey visually and then, using their two tentacles to strike. Then, manipulating and identifying prey with their suckered arms.
Man- Those tentacles are super LONG!!!
How do Giant Squids manage to keep two long tentacles, over 5 meters (16 feet) in subadults, headed in the same direction to a point in the distance?
They can temporarily lock them together with a series of smooth-ringed suckers and knobs.
During the attack on the electric jelly (a device mimicking the bioluminescent distress signal of the mesopelagic jellyfish Atolla), the Architeuthis dux made its tentacles into a noose shape but was unsuccessful.
In a matter of seconds, the squid retracted its tentacles coming back for round 2, this time with a claw-like end! Success!
It captured the electric jelly, but after a thorough exploration with its suckers, it eventually determined that the jelly, along with the associated camera equipment, was not food and returned to the darkness.
The change in tentacle end from noose to claw proved that Giant Squid relies on their giant eyes to hunt, in conjunction with their chemo tactile senses using their suckers to “taste” prey.
What more can we learn about the Giant Squid?
With continued advances in technology and a better understanding of this squid, it will hopefully allow scientists to gather more data. Not just on the Giant Squid but the Colossal Squid, Humboldt Squid, and Atlantic Giant Squid!
Oh yes, it’s not just the Giant Squid dwelling in the depths! I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to hear about the next epic Giant Squid encounter!
If you want to educate yourself some more about all sorts of different cephalopods, take a look at our encyclopedia. Or, what we call it, our Octopedia!
Connect with other octopus lovers via the OctoNation Facebook group, OctopusFanClub.com! Make sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram to keep up to date with the conservation, education, and ongoing research of cephalopods.
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Corinne is a biologist with 10 years of experience in the fields of marine and wildlife biology. She has a Master’s degree in marine science from the University of Auckland and throughout her career has worked on multiple international marine conservation projects as an environmental consultant. She is an avid scuba diver, underwater photographer, and loves to share random facts about sea creatures with anyone who will listen. Based in Japan, Corinne currently works in medical research and scientific freelance writing!