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Once again Ferrebeekeeper plunges into the abyssal depths of the ocean seeking a bizarre and barely known cephalopod—the elbow squid. Elbow squid, also colloquially known as “bigfin squid” are deep sea squid of the genus Magnapinna. Although they have been known to science since at least 1907 when a juvenile specimen was found and categorized, the strange animals are a real enigma to scientists. No adult specimens were known until the 1980s and only in the cotemporary era of widespread deep-sea robots were pictures of the living animals obtained.
But WHAT pictures! These images were worth the wait: of all Earth creatures which are not microbes, the elbow squid may well be the most unfamiliar and alien in appearance. Indeed, I have seen plenty artist’s conceptions of extraterrestrial life and precious few looked as bizarre as the elbow squid. The animals have extremely long tentacles which dangle at right angles from 10 upper arms (which project at right angles from the squid’s cylindrical body. The visual impact of this crazy arrangement is even more dramatic than it sounds.
Shell oil used a submersible robot to film a specimen hanging around their deep water oil platform “Perdido” (which is 200 miles offshore from Houston in the Gulf of Mexico) and the squid’s tentacles were reliably 9 to 10 meters (26-30 feet) long. These animals are different from giant squid—but they are also giant squid.
So why on Earth do elbow squid have such long arms? We simply do not know. Some scientists speculate that it brushes along the ocean bottom gathering up sluggish meals with its long arms. Other mollusk theorists(?) think it is like a brittle starfish and lies on the bottom as the tentacles write around. Yet another school believes the ten tentacles are for active predatory grabbing—the squid is like a fisherman with ten lassos. Perhaps it combines these and other behaviors. Other cephalopods are well known for being versatile and clever.
I would love to tell you about the hopes and fears of this strange denizen of the deeps. What animals prey on it (Sperm whales and elephant seals presumably, but what else?)? What is its love life like? How long do they live? But we don’t even know what these things eat. How it would fill out a Zoosk profile is particularly beyond our kin. The elbow squid is at the tantalizing juncture between the known and the unknown. Undoubtedly we will learn more, but for now we will just have to be content that we have seen them at all.
“Blanket octopus” sounds like an endearing nursery game, but the blanket octopuses are actually pelagic hunters which have adapted to living in the ultra-competitive environment of the open ocean. There are four species of blanket octopuses (Tremoctopus) which can be found ranging from the surface to medium depths of open tropical and subtropical seas worldwide. Because they often live far from any land, some of the methods which other octopuses use to escape predators do not work very well for them. Fortunately Blanket octopuses have adapted in their own unique bag of tricks.
Blanket octopuses are named after the distinctive appearance of adult female octopuses which grow long transparent/translucent webs between their dorsal and dorsolateral arms. Blanket octopuses use these webs as nets for hunting fish, but they can also unfurl and darken their nets in order to appear much larger than they actually are. Since blanket octopuses do not produce ink and can not camouflage themselves as rocks, coral, or sand, they rely heavily on their blankets. As a last resort they can jettison the blankets as a decoy and jet away while the confused predator attacks the highly visible membranes.
Blanket octopuses exhibit extreme sexual dimorphism. Whereas the female octopus can grow up to 2 meters (6 feet) in length, the male octopus is puny and does not grown longer than a few centimeters (1 to 2 inches). Males store their sperm in a modified quasi-sentient third right arm, known as a hectocotylus. During mating this arm detaches itself and crawls into the female’s reproductive vent. As soon as the hectocotylus is detached the male becomes unnecessary and dies.
Tiny males and immature females do not have blankets, but they utilize another trick to protect themselves. Because they hunt jellyfish and other hydrozoans, the little octopuses are immune to the potent venom of the Portuguese man o’war. The octopuses tear off stinging tentacles from the man o’war and wield them in their tentacles like little whips to ward off predators.
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!