Squid attack!



If anyone is interested in writing a Lovecraftian horror novel and getting all the details just right, I recommend this paper by Kier and Leeuwen. They used a high-speed camera to capture exactly how a squid, Loligo pealei, strikes and seizes its prey. Isn’t it beautiful?

In the first frame, you can see the animal poised with its arms and tentacles pointed like an explode at the target, a shrimp. Then, as the squid slides forward, the two tentacles race forward with impressive speed (these frames are 10msec apart; the whole sequence occurs in a bit more than a tenth of a second), and the eight surrounding arms peel back and form a lovely writhing flower of suction cups and waving hydrostatic grasping organs. Oh, this is such a splendidly baroque little carnivore.

Photographs of selected frames from a high-speed ciné sequence of the capture of prey (a penaeid shrimp) with the tentacles by Loligo pealei. The elapsed time (ms) from the start of the sequence is indicated in the upper left-hand corner of each frame and corresponds to the time indicated by the abscissa of the plots in Fig. 2. The grid spacing in the background is 0.02m.

Kier W, Leeuwen J (1997) A kinematic analysis of tentacle extension in the squid Loligo pealei. J. Exp. Biol. 200:41-53.


  1. Rocky says

    Beautiful impressive preditors. It would be interesting to see if giant squid feed in the same way, or hang vertically as some have proposed. .

  2. says

    wouldn’t it be cool to see the classic “man running” film, but interposed with the squid here? he takes one, two steps then bang! eaten by a squid.

  3. says

    Seeing the thing slowed down provides a view of the basic physics of its movement strategy. Looks like the “flower” of tentacles exploding outward is a counter-balance reaction to allow the grasping tentacles to thrust forward more quickly. It provides both a mass reacting back against the grasping thrust, and a small bit of swimming traction against the water.

    Don’t know why this comes up, but: I wonder if films of trees growing from seedlings, enormously speeded up, might reveal some kind of equally interesting details about the “strategy” of their growth? Something basic we don’t know yet because we live on such different time rates.

  4. umilik says

    >>> Oh, this is such a splendidly baroque little carnivore.

    … and tasty to boot. When not overdone.

  5. caynazzo says

    Good science, but I there’s a more apt literary reference than Lovecraft. Comte de Lautreamont’s “Les Chants de Maldoror”, in which he discusses in exquisite absurdity the transformation of antagonist to cephalopod.

  6. Tristan Heydt says

    Dr. Meyers, I want to heartily reccomend to you the new McSweeny’s DVD, Wholphin2


    Not only does it have a very cool animation with steam cloudships and giant carnivorous arthropods, not only does it have some very cool political commentary, not only does McSweeny’s run the world’s one and only official pirate store, but there’s a very cool insterstitial of a cephalopod distributing eggs.

    What’s not to love?

  7. says

    Huh. The immense symmetry of the tentacles is the most surprising thing to me. They seem to be pulling back in a tangled mess, but regardless of how unrelated the actions seem to be to the actual capture of the shrimp, they’re almost perfectly mirrored about the x-axis.

    Part of me wants to see it from the shrimp’s point of view, while the rest of me is somewhat horrified by the idea.

    -The Rev. Schmitt.

  8. Aaron, the self-proclaimed Squidologist says

    The Giant and Colossal squids have a thing called a pharynx, which supposedly can shoot out more than 3M (9 feet) to deliver the beak to chomp onto a fish. They DO NOT hunt like this, they dangle their tentacles down and catch fish by “clapping” their pads together.

    “Yum. I always liked eating things by shooting my jaws out of my mouth.”
    From one of my random rough outlines for a “squid-horror novel”.

  9. cenoxo says

    Bill Kier gives more details here.

    The tentacles look like a sabot being fired. Perhaps the outer (thicker and stronger) tentacles act like a gun barrel, compressing and aiming the springlike muscular release of the longer inner tentacles.

    The symmetry doesn’t look accidental: I wonder if similar gestures are a “back off” display to other Loligo pealei?

  10. Ichthyic says

    which supposedly can shoot out more than 3M (9 feet) to deliver the beak to chomp onto a fish.

    self proclaimed squidologist, indeed.

    I do hope you meant that as parody, ’cause it’s just so wrong it’s scary otherwise.

    nice resurrection, too, btw.

  11. Yorker says

    A while back I read somewhere that a new species had been found that was even larger than Architeuthis Dux, does anyone know more about this?