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The great Southern Ocean which swirls in a clockwise circle around Antarctica is home to many of the Earth’s largest animals. Blue whales come here to gorge on vast schools of krill. Among the icebergs and the towering waves, southern elephant seals (the largest member of the order Carnivora) fight duels to build their harems, and highly intelligent killer whales hunt together in pods. There are populations of sperm whales living in the Southern ocean as well and these leviathans dive to the cold floor of the world hunting for the world’s largest mollusk, a huge cephalopod which can only be found in the Southern Ocean. In fact this bizarre creature, the colossal squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni) is also the world’s largest invertebrate. Also known as the Antarctic squid or the giant cranch squid, the colossal squid lives in the abyssal depths. Unlike other squid, the colossal squid does not have tentacles–its powerful arms are studded with sharp hooks (much like the long-extinct belemnites). Some of these hooks swivel while others have three barbs in the manner of a fish spear.
The measurements of the colossal squid are staggering. Its eye alone (the largest of any known creature) measures 27 centimetres (11 in). A fully grown adult squid is estimated to be 12–15 metres (39–49ft) long. Although giant squid have longer tentacles, the colossal squid a long stout mantles and are thus much more massive. Their upper weight limits are unknown but are well over 500 kg (+1000 lbs).
The colossal squid is believed to be an ambush predator, which lurks in the depths waiting for chaetognatha, other squid, and benthic fish (such as the Patagonian toothfish) to pounce upon. It is hypothesized that they have a slow metabolism and do no need great reserves of food (unlike the energetic endothermic sperm whales which prey on them). The colossal squid are believed to be sexually dimorphic—the females become much larger than the males.
There is a reason that so much of this article is couched in ambivalent language such as “estimated”, “believed” and “probably”: colossal squid live in an environment where humankind can barely venture. The colossal squid are fast enough and clever enough to usually evade our nets, lines, and traps (although fishermen trying to catch Patagonian toothfish hooked a 450 kg (990 lb) specimen which was about 39 feet (13 m) long). Additionally our submarines and submersible robots are too slow and noticeable too stalk the squid in the abyssal depths. Other ocean creatures do not suffer from the same problem. Juvenile colossal squid are eaten by beaked whales, elephant seals, sharks, toothfish, and even albatrosses, however the adult squid are so large that only massive sleeper sharks and giant sperm whales can threaten them. Sperm whales are often covered with scars from their battles with the giants but the whales easily have the upper hand. Sperm whale stomachs have been found filled with hooks and beaks (which coincidentally were much larger than those found on the largest squid specimens recovered by humans to date).
So much of Roman artwork is lost. Except in remarkable circumstances, Roman paintings, textiles, and drawings were too fragile to survive the long centuries of neglect. Almost all are now long gone. Fortunately the Romans were masterful mosaic artists and mosaics are durable. Many mosaics concerning all sorts of aspects of classical life have lasted through the millennia. Some of these tile artworks present the loves of gods or the wars of men but quite a few are more humble and show the aftermath of a banquet or fishermen hauling in a day’s catch . Since Romans ate a huge amount of seafood, it is no surprise that many mosaics showcase mollusks of one sort of another. Here is a gallery of Roman mosaics featuring octopuses, squids, bivalves, or snails. I have tried to add as much information as I could but some of the photos I found were poorly labeled
Modern mosaic makers were inspired by the Roman example and flamboyant cephalopods are a major theme of contemporary mosaics as well as ancient ones. Here are some modern octopus and squid mosaics for millionaires’ swimming pools, elementary schools, or even everyday bathrooms. Enjoy!
I have written before about the beautiful cuttlefish (marine mollusks of the order Sepiida). Cuttlefish are closely related to another order of mollusks, the Sepiolida, or bobtail squid, which are perhaps even more endearing. With huge expressive eyes, tiny little tentacles, and opalescent skin, bobtail squids look like they were designed by a Sanrio artist having a strange day. Sepiolida cephalopods appear to be all head (they are also known as dumpling squid or stubby squid because of this shape)–and their large rounded navigation fins, which stick out like Dumbo’s ears only add to the impression. Members of the Sepiolida do not have cuttlebones but they are far more similar to cuttlefish than to other squid—perhaps their taxonomical classification will change as they are better understood.
There are approximately 70 known species of bobtail squid living in the shallow coastal waters from the Mediterranean, to the Indian Ocean, to the Pacific. To quote the Tree of Life Website, “Members of the Sepiolida are short (mostly 2-8 cm), broad cephalopods with a rounded posterior mantle.” The animals are gifted hunters which eat shrimp, arthropods, and other small animals which they chomp apart with a horny beak at the center of their arms. During the day, bobtail squid bury themselves in the sand with only their eyes protruding and then they hunt at night. Certain species of bobtail squid are known to be poisonous, like the lovely Striped Pyjama Squid (Sepioloidea lineolata). This poison is not well understood and may be contained in the slime produced by the creatures.
Bobtail squid are bioluminescent and they use this ability to disguise their profile when viewed from below–a helpful sort of camouflage which serves them as predators and prevents them from becoming prey. Young bobtail squid are not born with the bioluminescent bacteria but must capture them from the water column in order to start the symbiotic colony within their own bodies. The symbiotic relation between the bobtail squid and the bacterial colony has been much studied in the laboratory.
It was thanks to such studies that scientists first began to understand the method through which bacteria communicate with each other. Called “quorum sensing”, such communication takes place within a group of bacteria by means of signaling molecules. The chemical conversations allow bacteria to respond quickly and in aggregate to changes in their environment (to such a degree that a bobtail squid can tell the bacteria within its own tissues how much to fluoresce and can thereby determine its own luminosity by communicating with millions of living entities inside itself). I have written before about how critical bacteria are to the planet and the Earth’s ecosystem. Studying the bobtail squid provided the first understanding of the way that bacteria communicate with each other, but we are now beginning to suspect that such communication might take place on a vast—perhaps even a global—scale.
In the past this site has featured posts about how some of my favorite organisms and mythical beings have been used as mascots or logos. I have blogged about turkeys, leprechauns, trees, and catfish as adopted as the symbols for businesses, sports teams, or individuals. These posts have been fairly open because mascots and logos are often loosely defined: sometimes an informal name catches on or a novelty statue becomes the symbol of a town. Indeed some of the images I included are only maniacs in costumes or striking illustrations. So be it! Such usages highlight the way in which these animals and concepts are worked into the fabric of our lives.
None of this prepared me for how mollusks have become mascots, logos, and symbols. One of the many reasons I write about mollusks is because they are so alien and yet simultaneously so pervasive and familiar. That idea is borne out by mollusk symbols! Not only is one of the world’s largest companies symbolized by a mollusk (to say nothing of how a squid has wiggled its way into becoming the unofficial mascot of one of the world’s richest and most controversial financial entities), some of the world’s strangest entities are also represented by octopus, squid, or shellfish.
Mollusk logos are immensely popular in Japan. Sometimes the reason is evident (as in squid flavored noodles with a cartoon squid on them), but other times the reasoning is elusive. Mollusks in Asian art deserve a post all of their own. Indeed the subject deserves more than that—for tentacles are so tangled up with fertility issues to the fervid Japanese imagination that my family blog is not going to explore some of the outré fringes of mollusk imagery in that island land. With that explanation (or caveat), here are some particularly good Japanese mascots–denied of any context since I don’t read that language!
Actually I have no idea if those last five are mascots or logos or what. Whatever they are, they come from Shinici MARUYAMA and they are jaw-droppingly incredible. The Japanese certainly have a very special relationship with mollusks!
Since the last two posts concerning mollusks have also involved the classical Mediterranean world (where cuttlefish ink was used for writing/drawing and murex mucous was employed as a costly dye), I am going to continue the theme by presenting a gallery of octopus vessels from ancient Greece.
Most of these vessels are from the Minoan culture which flourished from 2700 BC -1500 BC or from the Mycenaean city states which were most successful between 2000 BC and 1100 BC (when an incursion of mysterious aggressive “sea people” apparently destroyed the great palace kingdoms). Such vases and jars were made by trained craftsmen and were prized throughout the Levant.
Because we only know tantalizing fragments about life in ancient Crete or in the Mycenaean palace states, the artifacts from that age have been subject to much conjecture and speculation. These lovely octopus vases have led some thinkers into believing that Minoans worshipped the sea and the creatures therein. Other scholars have conjectured that the ancient Cretans looked to octopus tentacles as inspiration for that characteristic Minoan architectural conceit, the labyrinth. The real symbolic or ritual purpose of the octopus motif remains unclear and probably always will. What is certain is that the vases, drinking vessels, and jars are quite lovely. The octopus motif originated around 1500 BC and by the Minoan period the so-called “marine style” of decorating pottery had become even more prevalent and diverse. Some ceramics were covered with fish, octopuses, dolphins, and crabs. In fact there was even a vessel covered with murexes. Perhaps these people simply liked octopuses and sea creatures. I can certainly understand that motivation!