What’s inside the squid cube? | Defector

At the retention laboratory in Wellington, New Zealand, Kat Bolstad considered a squid cube. It was the size of a barrel and has been firmly frozen since January, when it was pulled out during a research hut in fishing areas in the east of the country. The squid cube was not a cube cube, but a single cube-shaped squid, whose flabby body was folded into a rectangular fish bucket and then stored in the freezer. It was cold there until June, when Bolstad, a biologist for deep-sea squid from the Auckland University of Technology, was ready to unpack it.

“This is not the first squid cube,” said Bolstad, who has seen many cubes of different sizes and types in her work. But it was certainly a very special squid cube, consisting of the carefully wrinkled body of a whole giant squid, meaning a species of deep-sea squid in the family Architeuthidae. When gigantic giant squid are caught in research trays, their bodies are too big to be cut into cubes, that is, they are stored in a standard 50-liter fish bucket. These real giants are often frozen in pieces or “whole, in a huge kind, in a very large package in the shape of a sausage that has to be moved by a forklift,” said Bolstad. But this the giant squid, a young female, was small enough to fit in a fish bucket and become its own cube. As Bolstad described the arrangement of the squid’s body: “It was like a cat curled up sleeping in a fish bucket.”

About twice a year, Bolstad’s laboratory stays in Wellington to thaw squid cubes and other squid (frozen squid that have somewhat less in common with regular geometric shapes). The city has facilities for collecting the sea of ​​the National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research, or NIVA, which is slowly accumulating and freezing creatures collected on the institute’s research cruises. Some of the squid are frozen for months before their dead flesh regains heat. And the quality of corpses can vary greatly depending on the squid’s path from depth to surface. “Sometimes you get really beautiful,” Bolstad said. “Sometimes it looks like someone sneezed in a tray.”

credit: Kat Bolstad
This big Chiroteuthiswhich has extremely long arms, is what would be considered a “beautiful” specimen.

Successfully unpacking frozen squid can be a race against time: Bolstad’s laboratory and NIVA staff members have to finish their work before the meat starts to rot. Although one finger-sized squid can thaw in half an hour, larger squid can take all day. And squid compressed into a cube also does not thaw evenly, risking the outside of the cube to rot while the inside is still firmly frozen. A few years ago, Bolstad had to defrost a cube of colossal squid – a completely different species and the largest invertebrate on the planet – weighing more than a thousand pounds. The colossal squid tissue is more delicate than the giant squid tissue, so Bolstad’s team thawed that colossal cube in a sea ice bath to keep the dead squid in a relatively intact condition.

The squid cube was less nervous in June, thawing in the air overnight until researchers returned to disassemble the half-thawed cube and pour water over her body to help her. “We had visions of how it was going, and then it slipped on the floor and in the morning we had a terrible disaster,” Bolstad said. But the squid cube cooperated and the next day it was able to unwind completely and return to its 21-foot-long splendor.

Once a giant squid in the shape of a cube, completely unpacked.

Scientists do not often have the opportunity to examine giant squid. The animals are very large and live in waters thousands of feet deep, which makes it quite unpredictable when someone appears. For a long time, scientists could only study Architeuthis of squid found dead on shore, dead in water or digested or recovered by sperm whales, according to a 2013 paper. American Malacological Bulletin. Recent advances in deep-sea braking and underwater camera systems have given scientists a little more access to elusive giants.

However, it is rare to come across a giant squid that has yet to reach full size, Bolstad said. Scientists are still searching for the life cycle of giant squid, a cephalopod whose childhood is a bit of a black box. “There is a size below which the specimens are basically unknown,” Bolstad said, adding that there are records of “fairly small” mature males. But the females of giant squid become much larger: while a mature male can reach about 32 feet, a mature female can grow up to 42 feet. Mature male giant squid produce sperm packets called spermatophores and implant them in the skin of a female giant squid. But the researchers found only tiny hints of eggs in this particular diced squid, which means that it was an immature female that did not mate.

Wanting to find out what she ate, Bolstad’s team gently pulled out the squid entrails the size of almost a gallon. This week, researchers plan to thaw squid intestines – which are unfortunately not cube-shaped, but rather oblong – and examine which semi-cooked creatures and undigested microplastics could lurk inside. With any luck, they will find a few parasites. Many parasites in the ocean have to move through different unique hosts during their life cycle: after a fish has ejected them, they may have to penetrate a snail and then a shell before another fish can eat them. Finding a parasitic worm in a giant squid could help scientists more fully understand where the worm travels in its strange little life.

credit: Kat Bolstad
Another mysterious squid thawed in the head and tentacles of the giant squid.

Bolstad also wanted to extract a tiny calcium carbonate bone called statolith from the squid’s head, which could contain a trace of the lifespan of the giant squid – one of the many mysteries of many creatures. “The squid has this little crystal floating around inside a chamber filled with liquid,” Bolstad said. “The movement of the crystal there tells the squid about its movement and moment and position. Squid statoliths function as our ear canals, helping to balance squid in water. They also have growth rings, which could theoretically help estimate the age of the squid. But while scientists can count growth rings, they still don’t know how often they accumulate, Bolstad said.

But the statolith of giant squid is about a third the size of a grain of rice, which makes removing it from a larger squid quite difficult. “It is very difficult to cut the frozen giant squid head,” said Bolstad. “You need it to be like in this sweet place, partially thawed, but not too thawed. The crystals are always in a liquid-filled chamber in the same common part of the squid’s head, so scientists must take the scalpel to the area without breaking or breaking the brittle crystals. “It’s a bit of a lottery,” she said, adding that she had successfully drawn one of two squid statoliths.

Although the squid cube was perhaps the largest squid in the frozen pile, Bolstad’s lab thawed another squid of significant size that turned out to be the head and arms of a really large giant squid. Although the partial specimen lacked most of its body, the head and arms weighed more than a small giant squid.

While Bolstad was in the laboratory, NIVA asked if he could identify a small specimen that was collected separately. The squid, which resembled a tiny burrito, was an elusive and cult squid with a ram’s hornSpiral spiral. The species got its usual name from the delicately twisted shell inside its body, which could be seen protruding from the mantle.

credit: Kat Bolstad
Rams of ram’s horn, Spiral spiral, it looks pretty regal in death.

This year’s unpacking of squid revealed at least 30 species that have yet to be described and named, Bolstad said. “It’s an opportunity to potentially open the box and really make a discovery,” she said. “Experience taking something out of the box that one or two people have seen before,” she added.

Bolstad’s laboratory has preserved about 20 specimens that will be kept in the collections of the Museum of New Zealand and Pope Tongarev. Her lab will return to Wellington next year or even earlier to do it again, unwrapping bags and unpacking cubes of small giant squid, giant squid and many more squid of all sizes, watching everything they can before the rot starts.

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