Brainy Squid

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(Host) Commentator Ruth Page says squid take prove their apparent intelligence in lightning responses to changes in their habitats.

(Page) If someone asked you, right out of the blue, to name the invertebrate with the largest brain, one that appears to show high intelligence, what would you say? Well, insects seem pretty smart, but they’re too small to have big brains. What boneless creature is it, then?

Squid, that’s what. Squid are mushy-looking, come in all sizes, and get around by shooting out water. They fill the folds in their body walls with water, then force it out through a funnel-like tube under their heads. The funnel is movable, so their water-spurts can propel them forward or backward.

Each has a horny shell inside its body, called a pen, very firm, but not a bone. There are some 280 species, from huge to tiny, and all are fierce predators, for all their seeming vulnerability. They have sharp beaks and will attack anything, from a sardine to a diver. Cannibalism is child’s play to them; so sometimes they try to outsmart each other. Each squid has eight arms and two long tentacles for feeding. Divers sometimes take along a knife for protection, but, like most wild creatures, squid don’t find humans a normal prey.

Squid are edible and when cooked become chewy and tasty; sometimes they’re smoked, sliced and used for hors d’oeuvres. The squid family goes back some 500,000 years, though each individual lives only about a year. The creatures have to mature and produce young fast. Their greatest gift is their ability to change color instantly, and in varying patterns. That camouflage, and their ability to shoot out an inky cloud to confuse whatever threatens, are excellent protections.

The feeding tentacles that grab prey can pop out almost too fast for the human eye to follow. Each of the two tentacles is covered with suckers that hold and maneuver the prey into the mouth, where the sharp beak rips it apart.

According to National Geographic, a species off the California Coast can lay up to fifty thousand eggs, each in its tiny protective sleeve. Elsewhere there’s a reef squid that puts only a few eggs in a case, then hides them. In about 20 days the embryo has eyes already functioning, and will hatch in a few more days.

Squid can look as if they’ve floated through a rainbow and absorbed its colors. They use their color-change gifts to attract mates and deceive enemies. They can form patterns of spots in different sizes, with blues, greens, reds and blacks that signal ‘come here’ or ‘back off’ or ‘watch out.’ In mating, a squid can put a female-attracting color on the side facing the female and a repelling color on the other side to warn rivals off. And they can alter colors instantaneously to meet almost any challenge. That takes fast-action brains.

This is Ruth Page, offering some surprising facts about a soft, innocent-looking creature that is a fierce predator.

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