Everything You Wanted to Know About the Giant Squid

Giant squids are among the world’s largest, most fascinating, and most mysterious animals. Let's dive in and learn all about the giant squid.

4 min
Engrid Barnett
Engrid Barnett
Everything You Wanted to Know About the Giant Squid
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People have written about giant squids for centuries ! They used many different names to describe them.

The ancient Greek poet Homer referred to it as Scylla. And Aristotle spoke of the teuthus , an elusive creature roughly 18 feet long. The Roman scholar Pliny the Elder wrote of polypus, a 30-foot-long monster weighing 660 pounds! For many, the most recognizable name comes from Nordic culture, the kraken.

No matter which name you prefer, giant squids are among the world’s largest, most fascinating, and most mysterious animals. Keep reading to discover what scientists have learned about them over the centuries.

One of the World’s Largest Invertebrates

Architeuthis dux is one of the largest invertebrates on the planet. How big can they get? Males come in at around 43 feet long when fully grown. That’s the equivalent of a four-story building!

Females average slightly smaller at 33 feet. That said, reports of giant squids measuring up to 66 feet have circulated for years. But we don’t have any proof to back these claims.

giant squid
Architeuthis dux via Wikimedia Commons.

What about their weight? Giant squids weigh anywhere between 440 and 617 pounds. There are exceptions to the rules, however. One especially enormous individual tipped the scales at nearly 700 pounds!

Apart from their massive length and weight, giant squids look remarkably similar to their smaller surface water relatives. They have long bodies, eight arms, two tentacles, and dinner-plate-sized eyes.

Life in the Abyss

If they’re the spitting image of much smaller squids, then what makes giant squids so big? Some scientists blame it on where they live. Architeuthis dux occupies the depths of the ocean — between 1,000 and more than 3,000 feet below the surface. But many researchers think they live even deeper, making them true inhabitants of the abyss!

As deep-sea animals , they may get impacted by abyssal gigantism. As it turns out, the deep sea is excellent for growing large and in charge fauna. Besides giant squids, the deep sea boasts other massive residents like big red jellyfish, oarfish, and Japanese spider crabs.

The causes of abyssal gigantism aren’t fully understood. But some theorize it’s an adaptation to life in the deep sea. At such extreme depths, food scarcity is the rule.

Gigantism combats this because the larger the animal, the more efficient the metabolism. Coupled with low temperatures and fewer predators, some scientists believe the deep sea is the perfect breeding ground for exceptional size.

Kraken Food 101

When Aristotle and Pliny the Elder waxed poetic about giant squids, the animals took on the stereotypical role of sea monsters. They preyed on ships and devoured entire crews. But today we know these descriptions of the real-life kraken couldn’t be further from the truth.

Real-life giant squids want nothing to do with boats or sailors. Instead, they’re opportunistic feeders.

By analyzing the contents of dead giant squid stomachs, scientists have concluded Architeuthis dux lives on deep-sea fish and other squid species. Do they indulge in cannibalism within the giant squid community? The jury’s still out.

But we do know that giant squid are dynamic hunters.

They grab potential prey with their two feeding tentacles. Next, their sharp and powerful beaks come into play. They help shred their food for digestion, as does their radula. Think of a giant squid’s radula like a tongue covered in sharp teeth.

Short Lives and Large Predators

Giant squids may be renowned for their incredible girth, but that doesn’t translate into long lives. They only live for approximately five to six years. This short lifespan distinguishes them from other animals of the deep, like Greenland sharks, which can live for centuries .

Size might also make you assume giant squids fear no predators. But this is another misnomer.

Sperm whales are more than a match for these ocean giants. And they’re willing and able to swim the thousands of feet necessary to hunt giant squids. Another predator with a taste for deep-sea calamari is the sleeper shark.

Physeter macrocephalus
Physeter macrocephalus. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Remember the giant squid’s dinner-plate-sized eyes we mentioned earlier? Some researchers believe these massive peepers help them rapidly detect sperm whale movements in the darkness of the abyss. This early detection system gives the squid extra time to make a swim for it.

Complicated Brains and Complex Nervous Systems

What else do you need to know about giant squids? They have complex nervous systems and large brains like their smaller cephalopod cousins. For this reason, many scientists assume they’re intelligent and capable of problem-solving just like smaller squid species.

Unfortunately, only assumptions can be made because no giant squids have been successfully kept alive in captivity.

Like other deep-sea creatures, they don’t last long out of their depths. But genetic research has revealed 135 protocadherin genes in the giant squid genome. These genes are usually found in vertebrates and are linked to brain wiring. In other words, so many protocadherin genes may indicate giant squid are exceptionally intelligent.

Looking to Sea the Ocean's Wonders?

While you won't see giant squids, swim over to one of our three amazing Ripley’s Aquarium  locations  to get up close and personal with incredible creatures of the deep!

About The Author

Engrid Barnett

Engrid Barnett

Engrid is an award-winning travel writer and cultural geographer who’s long cultivated an obsession …

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