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A deep sea squid’s parting money shot to the world

July 18, 2010

Let me preface this story with a brief, humble note to the hard-working field researchers, front-line colonialists of knowledge, impaling the flag of how-the-fuck-does-that-work in the warm, beating heart of an alien world and claiming it for science. You are heroes, all of you. But is it too much to humbly ask for a video? kthxbai!

Deep sea squid is the Greta Garbo of the aphotic, sighted far more in our fevered imaginings than out in society. And though the marine paparazzi have made some high-dollar, front-page encroachments of late, deep sea squid’s day-to-day is still cloaked tight in sunglassed, wide-brimmed, furtive dashes of mystery.

Consider this, then, squid’s Rob Lowe sex-tape moment.

Deep sea boy squid lack (mostly) the subtle and articulate hectocotyli that are used by their shallower-water cousins to deftly deliver spermatophores. Instead (with the exception of Architeuthis dux) they have only the blunt penis, just like us (mostly). Sharing this sex-organ lackiness, deep sea girl squid do not have a special place to receive the spermy gift. Instead the males stick the seed where they can get away with it, in what must be a painful, corrosive process of fertilization.

No cephalopod voyeur has yet witnessed deep sea squid mate. Dead squid have shown deposits of spermatophores injected in myriad of locations on the body, including areas on the female that would seem far from the reach of the male’s mantle-tucked penis. Speculation ran hydraulic, with some researchers wondering whether the squid packed a bit of the cannon-boom to fire sperm packs out at great pressure for the long shots.

Then came a boat of biologists from the Falkland Islands Government Fisheries Department on a deep sea research cruise along the Patagonia slope. Finding they had caught a mature male squid Onykia ingens, they quickly placed his alive, though moribund, form on the stainless steel examination table. I’ll let one of the researcher’s describe what followed:

When the mantle of the squid was opened for maturity assessment during processing of the catch onboard, the penis of the squid, which previously had extended only slightly beyond the mantle margin, suddenly started to erect. It became rigid and quickly elongated to 67 cm total length, almost the same length as the whole body of the animal… Immediately after elongation, several spermatophores were ejaculated from the penis tip…

This copulatory adaptation has placed deep-water squid as the record holders in penis length among all mobile animals (more than total body length). Only the impressive trunk-like penises of sessile barnacles described by Darwin (1854) are relatively longer.

Did you catch that? O. ingens‘ diminutive willy burst out with a boner the length of his entire body & came all over the exam table. And, then, presumably, he died smiling.

If other deep sea squid follow this morphology (and, really, why on earth wouldn’t they want to) it may at last answer the question about how those spermatophores end up stuck way over in the far end of the females: a colossal squid cock performing the champ of all reach-arounds.

Mature males of deep-water squid Onykia ingens with cut-open mantles showing non-erect (A) and fully erect (B) penes.

Alexander I. Arkhipkin , and Vladimir V. Laptikhovsky. Observation of penis elongation in Onykia ingens: implications for spermatophore transfer in deep-water squid. Journal Molluscan Studies Advance Access published on June 30, 2010, DOI 10.1093/mollus/eyq019.

Reported in BBC Earth News Super squid sex organ discovered.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. July 19, 2010 3:29 pm

    Oh, to be a fly on the wall during that procedure. I wonder what the scientists’ reaction was when *sploot!* – out came squid juice. “I TOLD you to warn me!!”

    • July 20, 2010 5:53 am

      To witness the unknown and unexpected, every scientist’s (wet) dream. And, then, of course, to publish.

  2. July 30, 2010 6:14 pm

    Oh, hectocotyli, after corrupting the students with Loligo squid porn at sea, this was the perfect post to *ahem* come back to. It’s going right into my “Squid Sex” file.

  3. August 2, 2010 12:15 am

    @ Miss LaMoine, I’ll bet it was pretty scary. Not least of all because deep sea squid species (as mentioned in the post and in the – hilarious – research report on the incident) are thought to mate by sticking dart-like spermatophores into the female’s flesh. I’d definitely try hard to avoid getting a squid-sperm-spine wound…

  4. Katharine permalink
    October 19, 2010 2:39 pm

    … they cut the poor squid open before it died?

    Words cannot express how wrong that is.


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