Cranchid Crankiness

7 May 2010

It seems the Conservative, uh victory?, in the UK is having an effect on the state media already.  Check out this extremely toned-down version of the classic squid/whale/bus chart.  Gone is the blue gradient fill, exaggerated length estimates, hey, even the scale bar has been cleaned up.  And we haven’t lost our scepticism about whether this squid is truly colossal or just ‘colossal’.  It’s a new era of teuthous responsibility I suppose.

Though, not so much with the ‘facts’:

Its large size and predatory nature fuelled the ancient myth of the underwater “kraken” seamonster and modern speculation that the colossal squid must be aggressive and fast, attributes that allow it to prey on fish and even give sperm whales a hard time. “Monster colossal squid is slow not fearsome predator” Jody Bourton BBC April 7 2010

It is not quite clear to me how a squid native to Antarctic waters and discovered in 1925 influenced Medieval European mythology, but, hey, you know, whatever.  I also like the image of Mesonychoteuthis giving Physeter a ‘hard time‘:

“Hey sperm breath–where you going?  Oh, you’re going to eat me?  Ooooh I’m soooo scared…”

To be fair, the general tone of the article is pretty true to that of the new study on which it is based (Rosa and Seibel 2010).  It’s a neat, albeit rather hypothetical paper, that takes what little is known about the anatomy of the world’s largest invertebrate and plugs it into a model based on the relationship between water temperature, body-size and metabolism observed in other squid species.  These parameters suggest that Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni is a cool and calculating cold-blooded killer that ambushes its prey.

Both Rosa and Seibel and the BBC article insinuate that this is something of a surprise, flying in the face of previous theories that Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni was an active predator.  However, it seems to me that a low metabolic rate, with reduced feeding rates and activity patterns, would be the default assumption for an enormous ectothermic invertebrate living in very deep, very cold waters.  It would be interesting to know how the metabolism and activity pattern of juveniles, which start out life only a few millimeters long and generally live in shallower waters, differs from those of 15 m long adults.  Well, interesting to me anyway.

Photo from the awesome Te Papa museum Colossal squid dissection blog

At any rate though, I’m with Arch Anemone on this one.  By the BBC’s criteria, crocodiles, anacondas and bird-eating spiders aren’t fearsome like chihuahuas and dragonflies.  Okay, chihuahuas and dragonflies are pretty fearsome.  But I think a 15 meter long squid lurking in the darkness  just waiting for something to bump into an enormous tentacle lined with swiveling hooks which will drag it down into its snapping beak?  That’s pretty damn fearsome too.

Plus anything that eats Toothfish is worthy of respect.  Unless you call them “Chilean Sea Bass.”  Then you should be ashamed of yourself.

Rui Rosa and Brad A. Seibel 2010 Slow pace of life of the Antarctic colossal squid. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, Published online by Cambridge University Press doi:10.1017/S0025315409991494

4 Responses to “Cranchid Crankiness”

  1. hectocotyli Says:

    When Te Papa was live blogging their dissection, it was better than webcam porn. If you get off on watching fearsome swivel-hooked tentacles succumb to a scalpel. Which I, um, clearly do.

    Their 2nd non-scalpeled specimen on formaldehyde display is on my gotta-visit-before-the-clowns-eat-me list.

  2. Neil Says:

    Te Papa rocks. Though, just learned that Mesonychoteuthis doesn’t have a hectocotylus!? Sucks for you.

  3. hectocotyli Says:

    No hecto, but you know what that probably means:

  4. hectocotyli Says:

    [errant submit]…a colossal cock.

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