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Thursday, July 28, 2005

giant squid may be cannibals

As reported in this article from The Daily Telegraph, DNA analysis of a giant squid's stomach contents indicates that they may consume each other:
GIANT squid may have more on their menu than ill-fated sailors.

Australian researchers have discovered that the mysterious creatures – enshrined in myth as ferocious beasts that attack hapless mariners – may indulge in cannibalism.

The University of Tasmania team used a novel DNA-based approach to test the stomach contents of a 190kg male specimen caught by fishermen off Tasmania's west coast in 1999.

Three tentacles and 12 squid beak fragments were found in the stomach of the giant squid.

While the beaks could not be identified, DNA from stomach juices and tentacle fragments all belonged to the giant squid, or Architeuthis dux.

The only other species identified was a fish, the blue grenadier, not previously recorded as Architeuthis prey.
If I may ask a question, please...this particular giant squid was hauled in, according to the article, in 1999...so...why are you only now getting around to analyzing the stomach contents!? IT'S TWENTY-OH FRICKIN' FIVE, MAN! What have you been DOING with this poor Architeuthis dux all these years! It must be a pretty relaxed environment over there at the old University of Tasmania. Any job openings?

Seriously, I assume it is because this particular DNA sequencing technique was not available earlier. One of the nice things about biology is that you can stick a specimen in the freezer and continue to learn from it as new technologies are developed. The article goes on:
Identifying the prey of giant squid has also been difficult, due to the scarcity of samples and their tendency to finely macerate their food.

To eat, they shoot out two longer tentacles like a bungee cord before drawing their prey into the mouth, where a parrot-like beak chops the meat into small chunks.

Australian Antarctic Division research scientist Simon Jarmon said while the study could not rule out accidental self-ingestion, the Tasmanian research was probably the first time giant squid cannibalism had been demonstrated "reasonably conclusively".

"People for a long time thought that DNA in dietary samples would be too degraded because of all the digestive processes," he said.
One thing's for sure: death by being fed to a giant squid will not be high on my list of best ways to die.

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