Tag Archives: squid

It’s a fact: A squid’s a squid and an octopus is an octopus

Published September 21, 2015 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser
©2015 Susan Scott

One of Claire’s 3-inch- long squids — not the same as an octopus. ©2015 Susan Scott

One of Claire’s 3-inch- long squids — not the same as an octopus. ©2015 Susan Scott

I have a special reader in the Seattle area who loves ocean animals as much as I do. For years, Claire has sent clippings and Internet links that she thinks will be interesting to me. And they always are.

Last week she sent an online magazine piece, found at cnet.co/1UV8YYX, with this headline: “These terrifying squids will freak you out (pictures).” With the link also came Claire’s usual good questions, not about squids, but about octopuses. That’s because her first question was, “Are squid and octopus interchangeable terms?” No. Although the two animals are closely related, they’re different creatures in different families. About 300 species of octopuses and 300 species of squids inhabit the world’s oceans. Both come in miniature versions of their kind, and go all the way up to fearsome giants — fearsome because besides looking bizarre, squids and octopuses are impressive predators.

In most parts of the world, an octopus is called an octopus and a squid a squid. Hawaii octopus hunters, however, use squid for both. Ancient Hawaiians distinguished the two, naming squids muhee and octopuses hee. The word tako, common in Hawaii, is Japanese for octopus.


And yes, Claire, people hunt octopuses here and throughout the world, including species of the Pacific Northwest. Octopus is considered by many a delicacy, both raw and cooked. The demand for octopus as food is spawning aquaculture ventures, a challenging industry given the drifting conditions tiny octopus hatchlings need to get started in life.

Claire wondered about the correct plural for octopus. It’s not octopi. An “i” ending is plural in Latin, but octopus is a Greek word and the plural ending in that language is “odes.” But since “octopodes” never caught on, linguists and researchers have settled on the English ending “es.” And so we say, correctly, sort of, octopuses.

Although they belong to separate families, octopuses and squids have similarities. One is that all have eight suckered arms. These are arms, not tentacles, a necessary distinction because in addition to eight arms, squids have two tentacles, specialized for snatching fast-swimming prey in the open ocean. Squid tentacles can stretch long and retract fast like rubber bands.

To answer Claire’s last question, octopuses can indeed grow an arm back if they lose one. Unlike some starfish, though, the lost arm can’t grow a new octopus.

Claire, by the way, is my mother-in-law, and at 92 is still a great snorkeling buddy. The last time we snorkeled together on the North Shore, she found something I’ve never seen before or since: three baby squids.

Thank you, Claire, for questioning and keeping me current.

Resized squid_sm

Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean
Watch”, for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, www.staradvertiser.com

©2015 Susan Scott


Scientists may unlock secrets of gian squid

Published February 10, 1997 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©1997 Susan Scott

 IT’S amazing to me that enormous squid, 50 or 60 feet long, live here in the Pacific ocean, perhaps in our back yard, yet no one has seen one alive.

Now some light may be shed on these obscure animals. A group of researchers is traveling to the South Pacific to try to film giant squid in their home territory. The scientists will lower remote-controlled cameras, baited with squid food, to as deep as 10,000 feet.

If the effort is successful, the team will have cracked one of the biggest marine biology mysteries of all time: Where and how do giant squid live?

Myths and stories about these elusive deep-water creatures have been with us for centuries. Norwegian sailors called these big invertebrates kraken and others knew them as polyps (Greek for many-footed). But for most people, giant squid are simply sea monsters.

The image of a slimy skinned, 50-foot-long creature waving around 10 sucker-lined appendages does give me a little shiver. But the truth is, in spite of the stories of these “sea serpents” wrecking boats and grabbing people for lunch, no such attacks have been confirmed.

Besides that, it just doesn’t make sense that giant squid would be interested in eating humans. These animals live in the dark, cold depths of the ocean and healthy specimens never rise.

What do giant squid eat? Probably anything they can get their appendages around, most likely fish and other squid.

Squid appendages are unique. Most species, large and small, have 10. Eight of these appendages, called arms, are short and heavy, like those of their close relatives, octopuses. Like octopuses, cup-shaped suckers cover the inner flat surface of each arm in most species.

But the rims of squid suckers contain toothlike material and sometimes the inner walls bear hard hooks. These hooks, teeth and suckers help the creatures hold onto their slippery prey.

It is the hard parts of the giant squid’s suckers that leave scars on the skin of their main predators, the sperm whales.

Besides eight arms, most squid have two other appendages, called tentacles. Only the spatula-shaped tips of these long tentacles contain suction cups.

Squid tentacles are the business end of the animal, shooting out with tremendous speed to seize passing prey. The tentacles retract, drawing the food to the arms which hold it up to the creature’s mouth. There the squid tears the prey apart with strong jaws.

Capturing food in dark, sparsely populated ocean depths is difficult at best. But squids have superb eyesight. Also, they can instantly change color, have the ability to shoot out clouds of dark “ink,” and some species glow in the dark. All these strategies confuse prey.

They also fascinate people.

When I lean over the side of a boat at sea, I often wonder: What’s down there really, really deep?

Hopefully, we’ll soon find out.

Folks who harass octopus run risk of being bitten

Published May 6, 1996 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©1996 Susan Scott

RECENTLY, a marine photographer friend needed a photo of an octopus beak. We decided the best place would be the fish auction held daily, at the crack of dawn, on Ahui Street near Kewalo Basin in Honolulu.

Sure, any octopus there would be dead, but that was likely the only way to get a clear picture of the wiggly animal’s mouth.

My friend called me the next day. “Well, I found one all right, but it sure was a weird experience. I had just lined up a picture of a big octopus beak when this guy comes over and asks me what I’m doing.

“I start to tell him. But before I’m even done talking, he grabs the octopus, pops the entire beak in his mouth, bites it off and SWALLOWS it. ‘That’s how we deal with octopuses around here,’ he says.”

“I don’t get it,” I said. “What was his point?”

“I have no idea. He left before I could say a word.”

I’ve heard of octopus fishermen biting octopuses between the eyes. But eating their beak raw? It’s a new one to me.

IN Hawaii, octopuses are called he’e (Hawaiian), tako (Japanese), or squid (local vernacular).

Three species inhabit Hawaiian reefs. One is the day octopus or he’e mauli. This octopus is dusky-gray, or tan, and hunts for crabs and shrimp on exposed areas of the reef. The day octopus grows to about 2 feet long from its head to the end of its outstretched arms.

A similar species is the crescent octopus, named by the student who recognized it 20 years ago. No scientific name has yet been assigned to the creature, which looks like a small day octopus.

Hawaii’s third species, the reddish-brown night octopus, or he’e puloa, hunts on the reef at night. This nocturnal octopus, identified by its white spots, is smaller and thinner than the day octopus.

An octopus catches prey by pouncing on it, then enclosing the prey in the web between its eight arms. The octopus immobilizes its catch by biting with two parrotlike jaws, its “beak.” Such a bite delivers a paralyzing venom from the animal’s salivary glands. Octopus venom contains enzymes that break down proteins, and a glycoprotein (sugar plus protein) toxin.

Hawaii’s octopuses all carry venom. None however, contain the potentially lethal tetrodotoxin of Australia’s blue ringed octopuses, the only octopuses in the world known to fatally bite humans.

Local fishermen report that most bites come from the night octopus. Typically, fishermen wade onto shallow reef flats, either spearing or catching octopuses by hand. In its death struggle, an octopus sometimes tries to bite the hand that holds it. To subdue this writhing, mucus-covered creature, some fishermen bite the octopus between the eyes.

HAWAII divers usually handle octopuses without being bitten. If the animal is handled gently, it rarely bites. Octopus bites mostly occur when someone harasses them.

An octopus bite can tear a person’s skin, sometimes producing bleeding. The octopus sometimes injects venom from its salivary glands when biting humans.

To avoid octopus bites, don’t take the animals out of the water. In the water, don’t antagonize them. If you do handle an octopus in the water, wear gloves and be kind. Better yet, don’t touch.

An octopus bite usually looks like two puncture wounds. If the animal injects venom, the pain is similar to that of a bee sting, with tingling or pulsating sensation around the wound. Pain may radiate to the entire arm or leg.

Venomous octopus wounds can bleed profusely. Redness and swelling of the affected area is common. Some victims experience intense itching around the wound.

Unless a person is allergic to it, venom produced by Hawaii’s octopuses is not life-threatening.

As for the wisdom of, or reason for, eating a raw octopus beak? I don’t have a clue.

Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean Watch”,
for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, www.starbulletin.com