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Natural Selections: Three things about squids

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Squids are ten-tentacled cephalopod cousins to the octopus. They are remarkable in many ways, but three features stand out for Dr. Curt Stager, who fills in the details with Martha Foley: the way they propel themselves through the water, and the air, their amazing use of changing color, and their unique methods of self defense.

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A squid uses jet propulsion to swim; taking water into their body and squirting it out fast, jetting them forward. Squids will also go “flying” through the air. Actually it is more like gliding or the flight of an arrow, explained Stager. Because there is less friction in air than water, they can go three times as far using the same energy as they would moving through the water.

Squid are good at changing coloring, and can mimic other things in the blink of an eye. Their adaptive response shows squids are very aware of their surroundings. In one species, courting males and females use certain colors to attract a mate. When presented with a rival during courting, the male squid can split the color scheme on its body. One side, presented toward the female, can be flashy with bright colors, while the other side will have a set of colors designed to ward off the intruder. The male may make its other half look like a female, so the intruding squid doesn’t know he has a rival, and won’t be as aggressive.

Squids have several defensive capabilities: they can swim fast and can spray “ink” to hide or escape. But one kind of squid uses their tentacles in a unique way to help get away from an attacker. If a fish is attacking this squid, it will grab the fish with tentacles which then break off, staying attached to the fish. These tentacles will keep sucking, and then they will start to flash with bioluminescent light. This distraction allows the squid to flee from their attacker.

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