Scientists Unravel Mystery of Flying Squid

By Valarie Chapman

We have only studied a small portion of the world’s oceans – leaving us plenty of room for surprises.  In one great recent surprise, researchers at Hokkaido University have proven that a species of squid can fly (published in the journal Marine Biology).

There were rumors and witnesses of these flying squid, but until now, nobody had proven how a squid can fly.

Flying squid caught on camera. Photo: Hokkaido University

How do these squid go from swimming to flying?  Four phases of flight are described in the research: launching, jetting, gliding and diving.

While swimming, the squid open up their mantle and draw in water.  Then these squid launch themselves into the air with a high-powered blast of the water from their bodies.  Once launched by this jet propulsion, these squid spread out both their fins and their tentacles to form wings.  The squid have a membrane between their tentacles similar to the webbed toes of a frog.  This helps them use their tentacles as a wing and create aerodynamic lift so they can glide – similar to a well-made paper airplane.

These squid glide at up to 11.2 meters per second.  To put that into perspective, Jamaican runner Usain Bolt won the gold medal in the 2012 Summer Olympic Games at 10.31 meters per second.  The squid can remain airborne for about 3 seconds and cover upwards of 30 meters (98 feet) per flight.

While in flight, these squid do not simply glide passively.  They actively change their posture based on their distance from the water and phase of flight.  After gliding above the water, the squid fold their fins and tentacles back in to minimize impact and dive into the ocean.

Groups of over 20 squid have been recorded flying together.  It is believed that they fly to escape predators in the water – a tactic used by the flying fish.  While this is great for avoiding ocean predators, this might make the squid easier prey for new predators such as sea birds.  There is still plenty to learn about these fascinating creatures, but one thing is for certain: We can no longer consider squid to be just creatures of the sea, but now the air as well.

Changing Planet

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