The Humboldt Squid(dosidicus gigas)By Dina Dumezil

The Humboldt Squid is also known as the Red Devil in the original parts of the sea of Cortez which is located at the Gulf of California, Mexico. The sea of Cortez is the main and the original breeding ground for this animal. It is estimated that 10 million of the Humboldt squid inhabit the 25 square foot area. From this area the squid are on the move to North and South America.The have been spotted in Washington,Oregon, California, Canada,Gulf of Alaska and are expected to show up in Russia around the Khamchatka area.
Credit: Tom Mattusch
Why the Humboldt? It always makes an impression every where it may go. In California, for example the Humboldt destroyed the fisheries, they feed on the pike and salmon fisheries. These were destroyed in the manner of 48 hours.
At first these squid were welcome by recreational fishing and are in some parts of California they are fun to catch and put up a good fight when they are brought up out of the water they are new and strange animal to view. They are fast to wear out their welcome,due to their aggressive nature.

They travel in large numbers around 1,200 squid in one group. These squid are amazing hunters they all work together to initiate the attract they are even thought of having a visual communication method, via flashing colors utilizing special cells known to scientists as the chromatophors. These chromatophors are recently been studied and a new discovery was astonishing - the color shange takes place not just from red to white by open and close action, but rather various color changes may take place by actual movement of these specialized cells in an up and down motion.These cells are currently being investigated for further discovery.

The natural predators to the Humboldt are dolphins, turtles, seals, sharks, sea lions, sperm whales and humans. There are also other various animals that feed on the egg masses of the Humboldt and during the vulnerable embryonic stage. The average life span of the squid that we know is about 3 years, there fore the growth and development is rapid. During the work by Danna Staaf, after the hatching the new baby squid use of chromotophers was accomplished with in a few days. The fertilization is done with in the female after mating the mating has a ritual in which the male attracts the female with the use of color change, he then places the sperm in a special organ located close to the ink sac of the female. The males have a special appendage on one of his "feeding arms" the feeding am containing the special organ is generally shorter then the other.


The Humboldt squid are in the Mollusca phylum,which is a large and around 485 million years old marine group of the invertebrates. Close relative to the Humboldt is natulis, cuttle fish, bivalves and octopus. The Humboldt's anatomy consists of a muscular mantle which is used for locomotion and is also the part of the squid that the squid that has a lot of meat.
When these squid are harvested the mantle is then prepared into "squid steaks". The eight tentacles are covered by suction cups. These cups are comprised of keratin (found in human nails) and are shaped into teeth.(see image above) Therefore, when the squid wraps the tentacles around its prey there is a very small chance of getting away. These muscular tentacles along with the suction cups are ready to shred any prey in to small pieces before it is consumed by a beak like structure in the oral cavity. This design is crucial due to the fact that the squids brain is located around the esophagus, it is somewhat like a doughnut and if the food particle is too big the squid will have an aneurysm. The "skin" consists of a few membranous used for protection of the organism and also a muscular layer, which contains color changing cells called chromatephors.


The squid has three hearts two to pump blood via the two bilateral gills and one heart to carry the oxygen through the body. The oxygen carrying molecule is called the hemocyanin, which works with use of copper molecules verses iron molecules such as human hemoglobin. To state that squid have blue blood will not be accurate hemocyanin is part of the hemolymphatic system and not true "blood" as we see in mammals. Hemocyanin is colorless until an oxygen molecule binds to it , then it turns blue.
The structure of this animal is amazing and has been widely studied since 1945.The nervous system is comprised of the largest axons(nerve cells) this allows scientist to study nerve cells with out the use of a microscope. The axon of the colossal squid is even larger, however the Humboldt is more accessible.

A Squid-a-Thon for Muscular Dystrophy, Kidney Disease and Eye Health ?

The big trick that the Humboldt squid's axons are larger in diameter so there is less resistance when the current is travelling, thus allowing incredibly fast reaction time. This cell has a 60 year history of being studied and is used not only in neurology but also nephrology studies. The curious fact is that the kidneys are responsibly for a variety of tasks with in the human body one of these task is the Ph balance regulation. The Ph of the water seems to be the factor that is driving the strange migration of the Humboldt squid. In nephrology, the squid axon is investigated with in the relationship of the Ph balance adjustment.

The squid is able to adjust to temperature change, pressure change,salinity and oxygen content, however the Ph balance seems to affect the squids metabolic rate. The temperature also plays a crucial role during the development at early stages of the Humboldt squid.
According to Danna Staaf a cephlopodiatrist Ph. D., the embryological development of the Humboldt squid is limited to a rather small range in temperature of 15-25C. This is according to the data achieved in a controlled environment of the laboratory and we have to keep in mind that spawning and development of the squid takes place in the open waters and is constantly changing. The very first egg mass was discovered in 2006 and Danna Staaf along with other scientists including Dr. William Gilly had the opportunity to study the egg masses. This area of the squid research is relatively new and is currently changing and reshaping our knowledge of these mysterious creatures.

The eye structure of the Humboldt squid is very similar to the human eye, even on the specialized cellular level. This is a startling discovery since the evolution of the squid is thought of being very far from humans.
Let us remember that the closest relative of the squid are bivalves and octopui. The octopus is more studied due to the fact that they can tolerate and survive living in captivity. The octopus is considered the the smartest of the cephalopods.
There are many unknowns in this animal the nervous system which though of as an incomplete system is now being re discovered. The fact is that the Humboldt squid are able to change their color 4 times in one minute and the new discovery of exactly how this color change happens is leading us to believe in a much more complex nervous system then though of before. The fact that these animals are now on the move started to raise many new questions, however the fact that the fishing industry is getting effected by these animals has generated new funds for the scientific research in new areas of these animals. There are positive and negative effects on the whole global system due to this new migration of the Humboldt. The negative is hyped up by the media to make it a "sell-able" story, let us face it people love scary stories. There are even theories that the squid are invading and launching an assault on the humans due to such aggression. The fact is that it is an unknown, when we lack knowledge fear is one of our primary responses. This animal had many years to develop and evolve @485 million years ago, thus this is an extremely complex system for us to decipher.

Squid intelligence is difficult to study due to the fact that the specimens do not survive in captivity and are to difficult to study in the natural realm. The danger includes the depths of the waters that the squid inhabit, the numbers that the squid are found in, and their aggressive nature.(see video) The behavior observed suggests that there is an organized attack, which is orchestrated via communication among the squid. This communication is preformed via flashing lights the squid use their chromotophers to change color pattern and shade. These creatures live in the deep ocean as well as can be found closer to the surface this is why they are perceived as red in color. The color will depend on the depth and the chemical compounds such as bioluminescent cells which have not been documented in the Humboldt but is in speculation.

Photograph courtesy Brady Barr

Some people are adventitious enough to swim with these creatures in the name of science. Such scientists as Brady Barr pictured below, and Scott Cassell (ex special opps) and squid hobbiest are raising awareness of the "invasion" by these creatures. Speaking of invasion a "cousin" of the Humboldt squid is on the way to space!
That is correct SQUID IN SPACE!!!
The bobtail squid is boarding the space ship-with intent to TAKE OVER THE no no just kidding.
This particular squid has a light organ, it works by housing a special bio-luminescent bacterial (Vibrio Fishceri). In the embryonic stage the squid take in bacteria and during that process the squid undergo a shape change or the process of morphogenesis. The squid and the bacteria have a symbiotic relationship it is especially important since the bacteria directly effects the organism. NASA will use a small shuttle STS-134 to house some student projects including this one.
Why does NASA care? The study will show what effects does microgravity have on the morphogenesis process, this work is being done by Dr Jamie S. Foster,students and the scientist. They will also examine the work of a host and a bacteria with in a symbiotic relationship in space.

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For more information on this research, please contact: Kim Fulton-Bennett: 831-775-1835,
OF THE HUMBOLDT SQUID a thesis by Danna Staaf
Danna Staaf []