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Danna StaafRSS Feed of this column.

Cephalopods have been rocking my world since I was in grade school. I pursued them through a BA in marine biology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, followed by a PhD dissertation at... Read More »

. . . Wait! Stop the presses! They're not enormous, they're just somewhat large. They don't stab their prey, they just chew and swallow.

Maybe that sounds nitpicky--big is big and sharp is sharp, right? But it actually makes quite a difference. Consider these sentences from the Victoria Times:
Jumbo squid hunt in packs and use sharp suckers on their eight arms to hold their prey while stabbing them repeatedly with their sharp beak . . . Adult Humboldt squid can grow as large as 10 to 13 metres long (33 to 43 feet).
Journalists can't seem to write an article about Humboldt squid without mentioning their "Mexican name" diablo rojo. But in all my squid trips to the Gulf of California, I've never yet heard a Mexican fisherman use that term. At the squid festival, la cuarta gran feria del calamar gigante, in Guaymas, Sonora, there was no mention, ever, of el diablo rojo. The Humboldt is calamar gigante, and that's that.
I was delighted to receive a message yesterday from a teacher on the Oregon coast who had seized the opportunity to dissect a Humboldt squid with her students. First--how cool is that? Good teaching! Second, they found worms in the squid's stomach, and instead of ignoring them to focus on the squid, they put them under the microscope. Good science! Third, when they didn't know how to identify the worms, the teacher started looking in books, getting in touch with professors and (hey why not) me. Good research!
One of the professors at my marine station retired, and is in the process of clearing out his lab. This has resulted in a sudden windfall of free stuff, some awesome (an invertebrate textbook so old it lists the phylum Vermes) and some completely useless (ancient test tubes of unknown contamination history).

The most awesome to date was a box of squid, fixed and embedded in plastic over ten years ago. These squid provided the data for the study which proved horizonal transmission of the symbiotic bacteria in the accessory nidamental gland.

I know, right? Isn't that amazing?
Thank you, Slate, for taking this opportunity to remind us of the dangers of angering the giant squid:
The giant squid hates everything: It hates Kirk Douglas, it hates the crew of the Pequod, and it especially hates scientists who make it look stupid.
The warning was originally sounded in 2005, just after Japanese scientists made the first-ever observations of a live giant squid in the wild.
I was going to write about this article in the Kitsap Sun, which highlighted my advisor's recent research trip off the WA coast. I thought that was pretty cool, but the article had a few science points confused, so I was going to clarify them. But then I got to the end of the article and was blown away by the most egregious mistake yet:
Eggs have never been seen by researchers, but females probably hide their eggs in rocks, as other squid do.