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What is a Colossal Squid?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 04 December 2016
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A Colossal Squid is, as you might imagine, a really big squid. These squid are so unique that they have been given their very own genus, Mesonychoteuthis, to differentiate them from other squid species, including the Giant Squid, another impressive specimen in the Cephalopod class. While Colossal Squid were the stuff of legends for centuries, in the 20th century, evidence began turning up to support the legends, and as of 2008, around 10 specimens had been caught or found and studied by researchers who wanted to learn more about these remarkable creatures.

Because only a handful of representatives have been caught, it is difficult to make generalizations about the Colossal Squid. Scientists first began to suspect that the mythical squid really existed when samples of massive beaks and tentacles turned up in the stomachs of sperm whales. These beaks were too large to belong to any known squid species, leading researchers to suggest that they might belong to huge citizens of the deep.

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Given the specimens and beaks which have been collected, researchers estimate that the Colossal Squid probably tops out at around 46 feet (14 meters) in length, making it somewhat shorter than the Giant Squid. Colossal Squids, however, have very large, heavy bodies, and a massive mantle which dwarfs that of the Giant Squid. Several specimens have been caught in fisheries for the Patagonian Toothfish, suggesting that the Colossal Squid probably snacks on large fish, and there is also evidence to indicate that Colossal Squid also goes after large prey like whales and sharks.

These animals have sharp hooks on their tentacles and arms which they can use to grasp and manipulate prey. Several whales have been spotted with scars which appear to line up with the hooks of the Colossal Squid. Just to provide some perspective, the eyes of the largest specimen ever caught were the size of oranges, and the beak the squid uses to to shred prey measured 1.5 inches (four centimeters). This Colossal Squid also weighed in at around 1,100 pounds (500 kilograms)!

Some people refer to the Colossal Squid as the Antarctic Squid, referencing the fact that these animals inhabit the Southern Ocean. Several specimens have been caught around New Zealand, suggesting that the Colossal Squid may prefer this area. Observing the Colossal Squid in the wild has proved difficult, as the animals are shy, and they prefer very deep water, making it challenging for people to find them and track them. Several of the specimens captured have been obtained by accident by fishing boats who pull up Colossal Squids along with the fish they are searching for, with the squid refusing to give up its prey.

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