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Genetics solves Giant Squid Mystery

Thu, 21st Mar 2013

Victoria Gill

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The enigmatic, tentacled beast that sparked the legend of the kraken has revealed its secrets to a team of Danish geneticists.

Dr Tom Gilbert from the Natural History Museum of Denmark and his colleagues have discovered that the entire world population of giant squid are of one single species.

Colossal Squid DissectionAnd despite the fact that the squid were found or caught all over the world – from the waters off Japan, to Europe to the US, the painstaking genetic analysis has finally revealed their secret  - almost 150 years after the creature was first described.

Dr Gilbert was able to make the discovery thanks to colleagues around who took samples from the 43 best specimens of giant squid that have been caught. Most specimens have floated to the surface after they died, or washed up on coastlines. And some have even found inside the bellies of beached sperm whales. A few have been filmed and photographed alive in recent years.

The results suggests, Dr Gilbert says, that as they mature, the giant squid simply drift around the world on the ocean currents, before they diving to the deep ocean, which is where the mature squid live and mate.

There is still a huge amount to learn about these sea monsters though. The depths at which they dwell means that no one has ever seen them mate or give birth, how fast they move, and it isn’t even clear what they eat.

These new results about the mysterious giant squid are released, fittingly enough, on the 200th anniversary of the Danish naturalist and polymath, Japetus Steenstrup (born in 1813) who was the first to explode the myth of the kraken – the tentacle beast that was said to attack ships - by describing the species for the first time and revealing that the mysterious seamonster of legend was in fact a giant squid.

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Most interesting homology of the species. 

There are, of course, both Giant Squid and Colossal Squid which are distinct species. CliffordK, Fri, 22nd Mar 2013

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