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“The Deep”: Stop-action creatures of the inky depths
It’s been far too long since I posted any news about squid, but this morning while drinking my coffee and perusing a recent issue of Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries, I happened upon an article with a wonderfully grisly title: “Cannibalism in cephalopods”.
Oh yes. Cannibalism is, of course, extremely common in the animal kingdom, as well as in certain precincts of the American financial industries. Marine biologists have long known that squid, octopi and other cephalopods devour each other with gusto. But according to the authors of this paper, nobody had ever done a good survey of the existing literature in this sepulchral field, so they decided to throw it down.
The paper is filled with delightful and ghastly data points, including my favorite two details:
Cannibalism is so common in adult squids that it was assumed that they are unable to maintain their daily consumption without a cannibalistic part in their diet, due to their high metabolic rates … Cephalopods have the capacity to prey on both relatively small and large prey due to the skilfulness of their arms and tentacles as well as the possibility to shred their food with their beaks.
As the paper points out, cannibalism comes in two big flavors — cannibals that eat strangers, and “filial” cannibals that eat their own kin. Squid and octopuses have been observed doing both, but when it comes to filial cannibalism, apparently nobody is sure whether cephalopods are capable of recognizing their own kin:
“Recognition of familiarity in cephalopods is possible, but not certain … and the possible lack of recognition could promote non hetero-cannibalism in cephalopods.”
Brilliant, dextrous, and sociopathically stone cold. When the denizens of the briny deep become finally weary of humanity’s failings, we are, with horrible certainty, doomed.
(That origami picture above comes from the Creative-Commons-Licensed photostream of Joseph Wu!)
(As an aside, to illustrate this entry I originally went to the Creative Commons section of Flickr and eagerly typed the query “cannibal squid” — and found nothing. People! Get on this! I require public-domain photos of squid eating each other. That seems like a reasonable request! If the Internet isn’t good for this, what precisely is it good for?)
I'm Clive Thompson, a writer on science, technology, and culture. This blog collects bits of offbeat research I'm running into, and musings thereon.
Currently, I'm a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. I also write for Fast Company and Wired magazine's web site, among other places. Email or AOL IM me (pomeranian99) to say hi or send in something strange!
May 20, 2011 » 02:28 PM
From Christopher Kennedy’s very droll book “Neitzsche’s Horse”.
July 28, 2010 » 07:35 AM
“Wr” - S
July 06, 2010 » 10:05 AM
My Xbox broke, and I was trying to Google some possible technical solutions, when I noticed that Google appears to be encouraging me to make a typo. I suppose it’s possible that Google’s algorithms know that typing “wont” instead of “won’t” would produce better results.
June 29, 2010 » 05:00 PM
On the other hand, when I tried the test for multitasking, I was pretty abysmal. I performed worse than people who identify themselves as heavy multitaskers, and those who identify as low multitaskers.
June 29, 2010 » 04:58 PM
I finally got around to trying out the interactive “test your distractability and multitasking” page at the New York Times, which they put up alongside their story earlier this month about how computer distractions are eroding our lives.
According to the test, I guess I have good focus — I’m not very distractable!
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