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The colossal squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni, from Greek mesos (middle), onycho (claw, nail), and teuthis (squid)), sometimes called the Antarctic or giant cranch squid, is believed to be the largest squid species in terms of mass. It is the only known member of the genus Mesonychoteuthis. It is known from only a few

Colossal Squid.jpg

specimens, and current estimates put its maximum size at 12–14 m (39–46 ft) long and weighing possibly up to 750 kg (1,650 lb),[1][2] based on analysis of smaller and immature specimens, making it the largest known invertebrate.



  • 1Morphology
  • 2Distribution
  • 3Ecology and life history
  • 4History
    • 4.1Largest known specimen
      • 4.1.1Defrosting and dissection, April–May 2008
      • 4.1.2Exhibition
      • 4.1.3Second specimen
  • 5References
  • 6Further reading
  • 7External links


Unlike the giant squid, whose arms and tentacles only have suckers lined with small teeth, the colossal squid's limbs are also equipped with sharp hooks: some swivelling, others three-pointed.[3] Its body is wider and stouter, and therefore heavier, than that of the giant squid. Colossal squid are believed to have longer mantles than giant squid, but

An eye from the colossal squid.jpg
Colossal squid beak.jpg

shorter tentacles.

The squid exhibits abyssal gigantism. The beak of M. hamiltoni is the largest known of any squid, and more robust than that of the giant squid. The colossal squid also has the largest eyes documented in the animal kingdom; a partly collapsed specimen measured 27 cm (11 in) in diameter, with a 9 cm (3.5 in) pupil.[4][5] The eye was estimated to be 30 to 40 cm (12 to 16 in) when the squid was alive.


The squid's known range extends thousands of kilometres northward from Antarctica to southern South America, southern South Africa, and the southern tip of New Zealand, making it primarily an inhabitant of the entire circumantarctic Southern Ocean.[citation needed]

Ecology and life history[edit][]

Little is known about the life of this creature, but it is believed to feed on prey such as chaetognatha, large fish such as the Patagonian toothfish, and other squid in the deepocean using bioluminescence. A recent study by Remeslo, Yakushev and Laptikhovsky revealed that Antarctic toothfish make up a significant part of the colossal squid's diet; of the 8,000 toothfishes brought aboard trawlers between 2011 and 2014, 71 showed clear signs of attack by colossal squid.[6] The colossal squid is thought to have a slowmetabolic rate, needing only around 30 grams (1.1 oz) of prey daily.[7] Estimates of its energetic demands suggest it is a slow-moving ambush predator, using its large eyes primarily for predator detection rather than active hunting.[7][8]

Based on capture depths of a few specimens, and beaks found in sperm whale stomachs, the adult colossal squid ranges at least to a depth of 2.2 km (7,200 ft), and juveniles can go as deep as 1 km (3,300 ft). It is believed to be sexually dimorphic, with mature females generally being much larger than mature males, as is common in many species of invertebrates.

The squid's method of reproduction has not been observed, although some data on their reproduction can be inferred from anatomy. Since males lack an organ called ahectocotylus (an arm used in other cephalopods to transfer a spermatophore to the female), they probably use a penis instead, which would be used to directly implant sperm into females.

Many sperm whales have scars on their backs, believed to be caused by the hooks of colossal squid. Colossal squid are a major prey item for sperm whales in the Antarctic; 14% of the squid beaks found in the stomachs of these sperm whales are those of the colossal squid, which indicates that colossal squid make up 77% of the biomass consumed by these whales.[9] Many other animals also feed on colossal squid, including beaked whales (such as the southern bottlenose whale), pilot whales, southern elephant seals, Patagonian toothfish, sleeper sharks (Somniosus antarcticus), and albatrosses (e.g., the wandering and sooty albatrosses). However, beaks from mature adults have only been recovered from large predators (i.e. sperm whales and sleeper sharks), while the other predators only eat juveniles or young adults.[10]


Main article: List of colossal squid specimens and sightings

The species was first discovered in the form of two tentacles found in the stomach of a sperm whale in 1925.[11] In 1981 a Russian trawler in the Ross Sea, off the coast of Antarctica, caught a large squid with a total length of 4 m (13 ft), which was later identified as an immature female of M. hamiltoni.[12] In 2003 a complete specimen of a subadult female was found near the surface with a total length of 6 m (20 ft) and a mantle length of 2.5 m (8.2 ft).[13] This specimen shows that colossal squids may grow larger than 500 kg (1,100 lb), possibly up to 750 kg (1,650 lb).[1]

In 2005 a specimen was captured at a depth of 1,625 m (5,331 ft) while taking a toothfish from a longline off South Georgia Island. Although the mantle was not brought aboard, the mantle length was estimated at over 2.5 m (8.2 ft), and the tentacles measured 2.3 m (7.5 ft). The animal is thought to have weighed between 150 and 200 kg (330 and 440 lb).[14]

The largest recorded specimen was captured in 2007 by a New Zealand fishing boat off Antarctica. It was initially estimated to measure 4.5 m (15 ft) in length and weigh 450 kg (990 lb). The squid was taken back to New Zealand for scientific study.[15] A study on the specimen later showed its actual weight was 495 kg (1,091 lb), but it only measured 4.2 m (14 ft) in total length as a result of the tentacles' shrinking post mortem.[16]

Largest known specimen[edit][]

See also: Cephalopod size

This specimen, caught in early 2007, is the largest cephalopod ever recorded. Here it is shown in its live state during

Colossal squid caught in February 2007.jpg

capture, with the delicate red skin still intact and the mantlecharacteristically inflated.

On February 22, 2007, authorities in New Zealand announced the largest known colossal squid had been captured. The specimen weighed 495 kg (1,091 lb) and was initially estimated to measure 4.5 m (15 ft) in total length.[17] Fishermen on the vessel San Aspiring, owned by the Sanford Seafood Company, caught the animal in the freezing Antarctic waters of the Ross Sea. It was brought to the surface as it fed on an Antarctic toothfish that had been caught off a long line. It would not let go of its prey and could not be removed from the line by the fishermen, so they decided to catch it instead. They managed to envelop it in a net, haul it aboard, and freeze it. The specimen eclipsed the previous largest find in 2003 by about 195 kg (430 lb),[18][19] although it is still considerably smaller than some estimates have predicted. The specimen was frozen in a cubic metre of water and transported to the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, New Zealand's national museum.[20][21]Media reports suggested scientists at the museum were considering using a giant microwave to defrost the squid because defrosting it at room temperature would take days and it would likely rot on the outside while the core remained frozen.[20] However, they later opted for the more conventional approach of thawing the specimen in a bath of salt water.[22][23] After thawing, the squid measured only 4.2 m (14 ft) in total length, with the tentacles having shrunk significantly.[16] Although initially thought to be a male, closer inspection of the specimen showed it to be a female.[5]

Defrosting and dissection, April–May 2008[edit][]

Thawing and dissection of the specimen took place at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa[22] under the direction of senior biologist Chris Paulin, with technician Mark Fenwick, Dutch marine biologist and toxicologist Olaf Blaauw, AUT biologist Steve O'Shea, Tsunemi Kubodera, and AUT biologist Kat Bolstad.

Parts of the specimen have been examined:

  • The beak is considerably smaller than some found in the stomachs of sperm whales,[24][25] suggesting other colossal squid are much larger than this one.[24][25]
  • The eye is 27 cm (11 in) wide, with a lens 12 cm (4.7 in) across. This is the largest eye of any known animal.[4] These measurements are of the partly collapsed specimen; when living the eye was probably 30[5]to 40 cm (12 to 16 in) across.[26]
  • Inspection of the specimen with an endoscope revealed ovaries containing thousands of eggs.[5]


The specimen on display at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa is displaying this specimen in an exhibition that opened on December 13, 2008, and is still running as of September 2015.[27]

Second specimen[edit][]

In August 2014, Te Papa received a second colossal squid, captured in early 2014.[28] The specimen was also female, was 3.5 metres long and weighed approximately 350 kg.[29]


  1. ^ Jump up to:a b http://www.unmuseum.org/colossalsquid.htm
  2. Jump up^ Anderton, H.J. 2007. Amazing specimen of world's largest squid in NZ. New Zealand Government website.
  3. Jump up^ Te Papa: Hooks and Suckers. Blog.tepapa.govt.nz (2008-04-30). Retrieved on 2011-09-30.
  4. ^ Jump up to:a b 
  5. ^ Jump up to:a b c d Richard Black "Colossal squid's big eye revealed". BBC News, April 30, 2008.
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  7. ^ Jump up to:a b Rosa, R. & B.A. Seibel 2010. Slow pace of life of the Antarctic colossal squid. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, published online on April 20, 2010.doi:10.1017/S0025315409991494
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  10. Jump up^ Cherel, Y. & G. Duhamel 2004. Antarctic jaws: cephalopod prey of sharks in Kerguelen waters. PDF (531 KB) Deep-Sea Research I 51: 17–31.
  11. Jump up^ Robson, G.C. 1925. On Mesonychoteuthis, a new genus of oegopsid, Cephalopoda. Annals and Magazine of Natural History, Series 9, 16: 272–277.
  12. Jump up^ Ellis, R. 1998. The Search for the Giant Squid. The Lyons Press.
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  16. ^ Jump up to:a b 
  17. Jump up^ onboard scientific observer
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  20. ^ Jump up to:a b 
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  22. ^ Jump up to:a b Te Papa's Specimen: The Thawing and Examination. Tepapa.govt.nz. Retrieved on 2011-09-30.
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  25. ^ Jump up to:a b [dead link]
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Further reading[edit][]

  • (Russian) Klumov, S.K. & V.L. Yukhov 1975. Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni Robson, 1925 (Cephalopoda, Oegopsida). Antarktika Doklady Komission 14: 159–189. [English translation: TT 81-59176, Al Ahram Center for Scientific Translations]

External links[edit][]

  • Tree of Life web project: Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni
  • Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa(Te Papa) Colossal Squid Specimen Information
  • Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa(Te Papa) Colossal Squid Images and Video
  • Tonmo.com: Giant Squid and Colossal Squid Fact Sheet
  • New Zealand Herald: Fishermen haul in world's biggest squid
  • National Geographic News: Colossal Squid Caught off Antarctica
  • National Geographic News: Colossal Squid Revealed in First In-Depth Look
  • USA Today: Colossal Squid Caught in Antarctic Waters
  • BBC: Super squid surfaces in Antarctic
  • MarineBio: Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni