The giant squid (genus Architeuthis) is a deep-ocean dwelling squid in
the family Architeuthidae.
Giant squid can grow to a tremendous size
due to deep-sea gigantism: recent estimates put the maximum size at
13 m (43 ft) for females and 10 m (33 ft) for
males from the posterior fins to the tip of the two long tentacles
(second only to the colossal squid at an estimated 14 m
(46 ft), one of the largest living organisms). The mantle is
about 2 m (6.6 ft) long (more for females, less for males),
and the length of the squid excluding its tentacles (but including
head and arms) rarely exceeds 5 m (16 ft). Claims of
specimens measuring 20 m (66 ft) or more have not been
The number of different giant squid species has been debated, but
recent genetic research suggests that only one species exists.
In 2004, Japanese researchers took the first images of a live giant
squid in its natural habitat, and in July 2012, a live adult was
first filmed in its natural habitat off Chichi-jima.
1 Morphology and anatomy
3 Reproductive cycle
5.2 Predators and potential cannibalism
5.3 Range and habitat
7.1 Images and video of live animals
7.1.1 First images of live adult
7.1.2 First observations in the wild
7.1.3 First video of live adult
8 Cultural depictions
9 See also
11 Further reading
12 External links
Morphology and anatomy
Squid and Cephalopod
Like all squid, a giant squid has a mantle (torso), eight arms, and
two longer tentacles (the longest known tentacles of any cephalopod).
The arms and tentacles account for much of the squid's great length,
making it much lighter than its chief predator, the sperm whale.
Scientifically documented specimens have masses of hundreds, rather
than thousands, of kilograms (100 kg is approximately
Tentacular club of Architeuthis
The inside surfaces of the arms and tentacles are lined with hundreds
of subspherical suction cups, 2 to 5 cm (0.79 to 1.97 in) in
diameter, each mounted on a stalk. The circumference of these suckers
is lined with sharp, finely serrated rings of chitin. The
perforation of these teeth and the suction of the cups serve to attach
the squid to its prey. It is common to find circular scars from the
suckers on or close to the head of sperm whales that have attacked
Each tentacular club is divided into three regions – the carpus
("wrist"), manus ("hand") and dactylus ("finger"). The carpus
has a dense cluster of cups, in six or seven irregular, transverse
rows. The manus is broader, closer to the end of the club, and has
enlarged suckers in two medial rows. The dactylus is the tip. The
bases of all the arms and tentacles are arranged in a circle
surrounding the animal's single, parrot-like beak, as in other
A portion of sperm whale skin with giant squid sucker scars
Giant squid have small fins at the rear of their mantles used for
locomotion. Like other cephalopods, they are propelled by jet – by
pulling water into the mantle cavity, and pushing it through the
siphon, in gentle, rhythmic pulses. They can also move quickly by
expanding the cavity to fill it with water, then contracting muscles
to jet water through the siphon.
Giant squid breathe using two large
gills inside the mantle cavity. The circulatory system is closed,
which is a distinct characteristic of cephalopods. Like other squid,
they contain dark ink used to deter predators.
The beak of a giant squid, surrounded by the buccal mass
The giant squid has a sophisticated nervous system and complex brain,
attracting great interest from scientists. It also has the largest
eyes of any living creature except perhaps the colossal squid – up
to at least 27 cm (11 in) in diameter, with a 9 cm
(3.5 in) pupil (only the extinct ichthyosaurs are known to have
had larger eyes). Large eyes can better detect light (including
bioluminescent light), which is scarce in deep water. The giant squid
probably cannot see colour, but it can probably discern small
differences in tone, which is important in the low-light conditions of
the deep ocean.
Giant squid and some other large squid species maintain neutral
buoyancy in seawater through an ammonium chloride solution which is
found throughout their bodies and is lighter than seawater. This
differs from the method of flotation used by most fish, which involves
a gas-filled swim bladder. The solution tastes somewhat like salmiakki
and makes giant squid unattractive for general human consumption.
Like all cephalopods, giant squid use organs called statocysts to
sense their orientation and motion in water. The age of a giant squid
can be determined by "growth rings" in the statocyst's statolith,
similar to determining the age of a tree by counting its rings. Much
of what is known about giant squid age is based on estimates of the
growth rings and from undigested beaks found in the stomachs of sperm
The giant squid is the second-largest mollusc and one of the largest
of all extant invertebrates. It is only exceeded by the colossal
squid, Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni, which may have a mantle nearly
twice as long. Several extinct cephalopods, such as the Cretaceous
vampyromorphid Tusoteuthis, the
Yezoteuthis, and the
Ordovician nautiloid Cameroceras may have
grown even larger.
Giant squid size, particularly total length, has often been
exaggerated. Reports of specimens reaching and even exceeding
20 m (66 ft) are widespread, but no specimens approaching
this size have been scientifically documented. According to giant
squid expert Steve O'Shea, such lengths were likely achieved by
greatly stretching the two tentacles like elastic bands.
A giant squid specimen measuring over 4 m (13 ft) without
its two long feeding tentacles
Based on the examination of 130 specimens and of beaks found inside
sperm whales, giant squids' mantles are not known to exceed
2.25 m (7.4 ft). Including the head and arms, but
excluding the tentacles, the length very rarely exceeds 5 m
(16 ft). Maximum total length, when measured relaxed post
mortem, is estimated at 13 m (43 ft) for females and
10 m (33 ft) for males from the posterior fins to the tip of
the two long tentacles.
Giant squid exhibit sexual dimorphism. Maximum weight is estimated at
275 kg (606 lb) for females and 150 kg (330 lb)
Little is known about the reproductive cycle of giant squid. They are
thought to reach sexual maturity at about three years old; males reach
sexual maturity at a smaller size than females. Females produce large
quantities of eggs, sometimes more than 5 kg (11 lb), that
average 0.5 to 1.4 mm (0.020 to 0.055 in) long and 0.3 to
0.7 mm (0.012 to 0.028 in) wide. Females have a single
median ovary in the rear end of the mantle cavity and paired,
convoluted oviducts, where mature eggs pass exiting through the
oviducal glands, then through the nidamental glands. As in other
squid, these glands produce a gelatinous material used to keep the
eggs together once they are laid.
In males, as with most other cephalopods, the single, posterior testis
produces sperm that move into a complex system of glands that
manufacture the spermatophores. These are stored in the elongate sac,
or Needham's sac, that terminates in the penis from which they are
expelled during mating. The penis is prehensile, over 90 cm
(35 in) long, and extends from inside the mantle.
How the sperm is transferred to the egg mass is much debated, as giant
squid lack the hectocotylus used for reproduction in many other
cephalopods. It may be transferred in sacs of spermatophores, called
spermatangia, which the male injects into the female's arms. This is
suggested by a female specimen recently found in Tasmania, having a
small subsidiary tendril attached to the base of each arm.
Post-larval juveniles have been discovered in surface waters off New
Zealand, with plans to capture more and maintain them in an aquarium
to learn more about the creature. Young giant squid specimens were
found off the coast of southern Japan in 2013 and confirmed through
Analysis of the mitochondrial
DNA of giant squid individuals from all
over the world has found that there is little variation between
individuals across the globe (just 181 differing genetic base pairs
out of 20,331). This suggests that there is but a single species of
giant squid in the world.
Squid larvae may be dispersed by ocean
currents across vast distances.
The dramatization of an underwater encounter between the sperm whale
and giant squid, from a diorama in the Hall of Ocean Life at the
American Museum of Natural History
Recent studies have shown giant squid feed on deep-sea fish and other
squid species. They catch prey using the two tentacles, gripping
it with serrated sucker rings on the ends. Then they bring it toward
the powerful beak, and shred it with the radula (tongue with small,
file-like teeth) before it reaches the esophagus. They are believed to
be solitary hunters, as only individual giant squid have been caught
in fishing nets. Although the majority of giant squid caught by trawl
in New Zealand waters have been associated with the local hoki
(Macruronus novaezelandiae) fishery, hoki do not feature in the
squid's diet. This suggests giant squid and hoki prey on the same
Predators and potential cannibalism
The only known predators of adult giant squid are sperm whales, but
pilot whales may also feed on them. Juveniles are preyed on by
deep-sea sharks and other fish. Because sperm whales are skilled
at locating giant squid, scientists have tried to observe them to
study the squid.
Giant squid have also been recently discovered to
presumably steal food from each other; in mid-to-late October
2016, a 9 m (30 ft) giant squid washed ashore in Galicia,
Spain. The squid had been photographed alive shortly before its death
by a tourist named Javier Ondicol, and examination of its corpse by
the Coordinators for the Study and Protection of Marine Species
(CEPESMA) indicates that the squid was attacked and mortally wounded
by another giant squid, losing parts of its fins, and receiving damage
to its mantle, one of its gills and losing an eye. The intact nature
of the specimen indicates that the giant squid managed to escape its
rival by slowly retreating to shallow water, where it died of its
wounds. The incident is the second to be documented among Architeuthis
recorded in Spain, with the other occurring in Villaviciosa. Evidence
in the form of giant squid stomach contents containing beak fragments
from other giant squid in
Tasmania also supports the theory that the
species is at least occasionally cannibalistic. Alternatively, such
squid-on-squid attacks may be a result of competition for prey. These
traits are seen in the
Humboldt squid as well, indicating that
cannibalism in large squid may be more common than originally
Range and habitat
Giant squid are widespread, occurring in all of the world's oceans.
They are usually found near continental and island slopes from the
North Atlantic Ocean, especially Newfoundland, Norway, the northern
Spain and the oceanic islands of the
Madeira, to the South Atlantic around southern Africa, the North
Pacific around Japan, and the southwestern Pacific around New Zealand
and Australia. Specimens are rare in tropical and polar latitudes.
The vertical distribution of giant squid is incompletely known, but
data from trawled specimens and sperm whale diving behaviour suggest
it spans a large range of depths, possibly 300–1,000 metres
The taxonomy of the giant squid, as with many cephalopod genera, has
long been debated.
Lumpers and splitters may propose as many as eight
species or as few as one. The broadest list is:
Architeuthis dux, Atlantic giant squid
Architeuthis martensi, North Pacific giant squid
Architeuthis sanctipauli, southern giant squid
Architeuthis sanctipauli was described in 1877 based on a specimen
found washed ashore in
Île Saint-Paul three years earlier.
It is unclear if these are distinct species, as no genetic or physical
basis for distinguishing between them has yet been proposed.
Some sources on the internet mention a species Architeuthis
In the 1984 FAO Species Catalogue of the Cephalopods of the World,
Roper, et al. wrote:
Many species have been named in the sole genus of the family
Architeuthidae, but they are so inadequately described and poorly
understood that the systematics of the group is thoroughly confused.
In Cephalopods: A World Guide (2000), Norman writes:
The number of species of giant squid is not known, although the
general consensus amongst researchers is that there are at least three
species, one in the Atlantic Ocean (Architeuthis dux), one in the
Southern Ocean (A. sanctipauli) and at least one in the northern
Pacific Ocean (A. martensi).
In March 2013, researchers at the
University of Copenhagen
University of Copenhagen suggested
that, based on
DNA research, there is only one species:
... researchers at the
University of Copenhagen
University of Copenhagen leading an
international team, have discovered that no matter where in the world
they are found, the fabled animals are so closely related at the
genetic level that they represent a single, global population, and
thus despite previous statements to the contrary, a single species
Main article: List of giant squid specimens and sightings
Alecton attempts to capture a giant squid in 1861
Aristotle, who lived in the fourth century BC, described a large
squid, which he called teuthus, distinguishing it from the smaller
squid, the teuthis. He mentions, "of the calamaries, the so-called
teuthus is much bigger than the teuthis; for teuthi [plural of
teuthus] have been found as much as five ells long".
Pliny the Elder, living in the first century AD, also described a
gigantic squid in his Natural History, with the head "as big as a
cask", arms 30 ft (9.1 m) long, and carcass weighing
700 lb (320 kg).
Tales of giant squid have been common among mariners since ancient
times, and may have led to the Norse legend of the kraken, a
tentacled sea monster as large as an island capable of engulfing and
sinking any ship. Japetus Steenstrup, the describer of Architeuthis,
suggested a giant squid was the species described as a sea monk to the
Danish king Christian III circa 1550. The
Lusca of the Caribbean
Greek mythology may also derive from giant squid
sightings. Eyewitness accounts of other sea monsters like the sea
serpent are also thought[by whom?] to be mistaken interpretations of
Steenstrup wrote a number of papers on giant squid in the 1850s. He
first used the term "Architeuthus" (this was the spelling he chose) in
a paper in 1857. A portion of a giant squid was secured by the French
corvette Alecton in 1861, leading to wider recognition of the genus in
the scientific community. From 1870 to 1880, many squid were stranded
on the shores of Newfoundland. For example, a specimen washed ashore
in Thimble Tickle Bay, Newfoundland on 2 November 1878; its mantle was
reported to be 6.1 m (20 ft) long, with one tentacle
10.7 m (35 ft) long, and it was estimated as weighing 1
short ton (0.9 t). In 1873, a squid "attacked" a minister and
a young boy in a dory near Bell Island, Newfoundland. Many strandings
also occurred in New Zealand during the late 19th century.
Giant squid from Logy Bay, Newfoundland in Reverend Moses Harvey's
bathtub, November/December 1873
Although strandings continue to occur sporadically throughout the
world, none have been as frequent as those at Newfoundland and New
Zealand in the 19th century. It is not known why giant squid become
stranded on shore, but it may be because the distribution of deep,
cold water where squid live is temporarily altered. Many scientists
who have studied squid mass strandings believe they are cyclical and
predictable. The length of time between strandings is not known, but
was proposed to be 90 years by Architeuthis specialist Frederick
Aldrich. Aldrich used this value to correctly predict a relatively
small stranding that occurred between 1964 and 1966.
In 2004, another giant squid, later named "Archie", was caught off the
coast of the
Falkland Islands by a fishing trawler. It was 8.62 m
(28.3 ft) long and was sent to the Natural History Museum in
London to be studied and preserved. It was put on display on 1 March
2006 at the Darwin Centre. The find of such a large,
complete specimen is very rare, as most specimens are in a poor
condition, having washed up dead on beaches or been retrieved from the
stomachs of dead sperm whales.
Researchers undertook a painstaking process to preserve the body. It
was transported to England on ice aboard the trawler; then it was
defrosted, which took about four days. The major difficulty was that
thawing the thick mantle took much longer than the tentacles. To
prevent the tentacles from rotting, scientists covered them in ice
packs, and bathed the mantle in water. Then they injected the squid
with a formol-saline solution to prevent rotting. The creature is now
on show in a 9-m (30-ft) glass tank at the Darwin Centre of the
Natural History Museum.
The giant squid specimen preserved in a block of ice at the Melbourne
In December 2005, the Melbourne
Aquarium in Australia paid A$100,000
for the intact body of a 7-metre-long (23 ft) giant squid,
preserved in a giant block of ice, which had been caught by fishermen
off the coast of New Zealand's
South Island that year.
The number of known giant squid specimens was close to 700 in
2011, and new ones are reported each year. Around 30 of these
specimens are exhibited at museums and aquaria worldwide. The
Centro del Calamar Gigante
Centro del Calamar Gigante in Luarca, Spain, had by far the largest
collection on public display, but many of the museum's specimens were
destroyed during a storm in February 2014.
The search for a live Architeuthis specimen includes attempts to find
live young, including larvae. The larvae closely resemble those of
Nototodarus and Onykia, but are distinguished by the shape of the
mantle attachment to the head, the tentacle suckers, and the beaks.
Images and video of live animals
By the turn of the 21st century, the giant squid remained one of the
few extant megafauna to have never been photographed alive, either in
the wild or in captivity. Marine biologist and author Richard Ellis
described it as "the most elusive image in natural history". In
1993, an image purporting to show a diver with a live giant squid
(identified as Architeuthis dux) was published in the book European
Seashells. However, the animal in this photograph was a sick or
Onykia robusta, not a giant squid. The first footage of
live (larval) giant squid ever captured on film was in 2001. The
footage was shown on Chasing Giants: On the Trail of the Giant Squid
on the Discovery Channel.
First images of live adult
The specimen from Goshiki beach is seen here tied with a rope, its
delicate skin only partially intact. Muscular constriction around the
squid's eye obscures much of its surface in this image.
The first image of a live mature giant squid was taken on 15 January
2002, on Goshiki beach, Amino Cho, Kyoto Prefecture,
Japan. The animal, which measured about 2 m
(6.6 ft) in mantle length and 4 m (13 ft) in total
length, was found near the water's surface. It was captured and
tied to a quay, where it died overnight. The specimen was
identified by Koutarou Tsuchiya of the Tokyo University of Fisheries.
It is on display at the National Science Museum of Japan.
First observations in the wild
The first photographs of a live giant squid in its natural habitat
were taken on 30 September 2004, by
Tsunemi Kubodera (National Science
Museum of Japan) and
Kyoichi Mori (Ogasawara Whale Watching
Association). Their teams had worked together for nearly two years
to accomplish this. They used a five-ton fishing boat and only two
crew members. The images were created on their third trip to a known
sperm whale hunting ground 970 km (600 mi) south of Tokyo,
where they had dropped a 900-m (3000-ft) line baited with squid and
shrimp. The line also held a camera and a flash. After over 20 tries
that day, an 8 m (26 ft) giant squid attacked the lure and
snagged its tentacle. The camera took over 500 photos before the squid
managed to break free after four hours. The squid's 5.5 m
(18 ft) tentacle remained attached to the lure. Later
confirmed the animal as a giant squid.
One of the series of images of a live giant squid taken by Kubodera
and Mori in 2004
On 27 September 2005, Kubodera and Mori released the photographs to
the world. The photo sequence, taken at a depth of 900 metres
(3,000 ft) off Japan's Ogasawara Islands, shows the squid homing
in on the baited line and enveloping it in "a ball of tentacles". The
researchers were able to locate the likely general location of giant
squid by closely tailing the movements of sperm whales. According to
Kubodera, "we knew that they fed on the squid, and we knew when and
how deep they dived, so we used them to lead us to the squid".
Kubodera and Mori reported their observations in the journal
Proceedings of the Royal Society.
Among other things, the observations demonstrate actual hunting
behaviors of adult Architeuthis, a subject on which there had been
much speculation. The photographs showed an aggressive hunting pattern
by the baited squid, leading to it impaling a tentacle on the bait
ball's hooks. This may disprove the theory that the giant squid is a
drifter which eats whatever floats by, rarely moving so as to conserve
energy. It seems the species has a much more aggressive feeding
First video of live adult
In November 2006, American explorer and diver
Scott Cassell led an
expedition to the
Gulf of California
Gulf of California with the aim of filming a giant
squid in its natural habitat. The team employed a novel filming
method: using a
Humboldt squid carrying a specially designed camera
clipped to its fin. The camera-bearing squid caught on film what was
claimed to be a giant squid, with an estimated length of 40 feet
(12 m), engaging in predatory behavior. The footage aired
a year later on a History Channel program, MonsterQuest: Giant Squid
Found. Cassell subsequently distanced himself from this
documentary, claiming that it contained multiple factual and
On 4 December 2006, an adult giant squid was caught on video near the
Ogasawara Islands, 1,000 km (620 mi) south of Tokyo, by
researchers from the
National Science Museum of Japan
National Science Museum of Japan led by Tsunemi
Kubodera. It was a small female about 3.5 m (11 ft) long and
weighing 50 kg (110 lb). The bait used by the scientists
initially attracted a medium-sized squid measuring around 55 cm
(22 in), which in turn attracted the giant squid. It was pulled
aboard the research vessel, but died in the process.
In July 2012, a crew from television networks
NHK and Discovery
Channel captured what they describe as "the first-ever footage of a
live giant squid in its natural habitat". The footage was
revealed on a
Special on 13 January 2013, and was shown on
Discovery Channel's show Monster Squid: The Giant Is Real on 27
January 2013, and on Giant Squid: Filming the Impossible –
Special on BBC Two. The squid was about 3 m
(9.8 ft) long and was missing its feeding tentacles, likely from
a failed attack by a sperm whale. It was drawn into viewing range by
both artificial bioluminescence created to mimic panicking Atolla
jellyfish and by using a
Thysanoteuthis rhombus (diamond squid) as
bait. The giant squid was filmed feeding for about 23 minutes by
Tsunemi Kubodera until it departed. The technique of using
unobtrusive viewing and bioluminescence luring of the squid with quiet
unobtrusive platforms was described by Edith Widder, a member of the
On 24 December 2015, a 3.7 m (12 ft) giant squid (possibly a
sub-adult) appeared in Toyama Bay, Japan in a local harbor. According
to a local diving shop owner, the squid was swimming normally when he
dove alongside it, and after a few hours of being filmed in the
harbor, the animal was guided back into the open ocean.
An illustration from the original edition of Twenty Thousand Leagues
Under the Sea depicting a giant squid
Giant squid in popular culture
Giant squid in popular culture and
Kraken in popular
The elusive nature of the giant squid and its foreign appearance,
often perceived as terrifying, have firmly established its place in
the human imagination. Representations of the giant squid have been
known from early legends of the kraken through books such as Moby-Dick
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea on to novels such as Ian
Fleming's Dr. No and Peter Benchley's Beast (adapted as a film called
The Beast) and modern animated television programs.
In particular, the image of a giant squid locked in battle with a
sperm whale is a common one, although the squid is, in fact, the
whale's prey, and not an equal combatant.
Colossal squid, the largest squid species by mass
Cthulhu, an alien creature with a cephalopod-like appearance from the
H. P. Lovecraft
H. P. Lovecraft story "The Call of Cthulhu"
Enteroctopus, a genus whose members are commonly known as giant
Gigantic octopus, a hypothesised species of octopus
Humboldt squid, a large species of squid and the only member of the
Taningia danae, a large squid species of the genus Taningia
Watcher in the Water, a colossal, squid-like being in J. R. R.
Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Architeuthis.
Wikispecies has information related to Architeuthis
Tree of Life Web Project: Architeuthis
TONMO.com's fact sheet for giant and colossal squids
TONMO.com's giant squid reproduction article
Squid – Smithsonian Ocean Portal
New Zealand – 1999 Expedition Journals In Search of Giant Squid
Fishermen haul in world's biggest squid in the Ross Sea, February
Video Giant Squid