Stop calling it "giant," people -- this squid's "colossal"!

Remember: A giant squid is distinct from a colossal squid.

By Farhad Manjoo
Published May 1, 2008 12:59AM (UTC)
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Te Papa Tongarewa

The colossal squid's eyes' lenses.

Te Papa Tongarewa

The colossal squid's ovaries.

Yesterday I wrote about scientists who are thawing and dissecting the colossal squid caught off Antarctica last year. The mysterious squid has become an international media sensation -- it won't be long now before Annie Liebowitz snaps some completely inappropriate pictures of the beast lounging about in its birthday suit.

But something's been bugging me about all this squid ink. Headline writers keep calling the thing a giant squid -- but the squid on the table at New Zealand's Te Papa Tongarewa museum this week is not a giant squid. It's a colossal squid. And the two are not the same.

True, both the giant squid, Architeuthis dux, and the colossal squid, Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni, are enormous squids -- each with two fins, a body wall called a "mantle," a head, eight arms, and two tentacles. Both are found deep underwater and have been encountered by humans only rarely.

But in several ways the colossal squid is more enormous than the giant squid. Its mantle is nearly twice as long, and it weighs nearly twice as much. The colossal squid at Te Papa Tongarewa weighed in at just over 1000 pounds. (The colossal squid's overall body length, however, is roughly comparable to that of the giant squid).

The Associated Press is the biggest offender here -- one widely reprinted headline (including here at Salon) that the wire service sent out today goes, "Giant Squid Has Biggest Animal Eyes in World, Scientists Say."

As the AP story's lead explains, though, the 11-inch peepers actually belong to the colossal squid, not a giant squid. (Te Papa Tongarewa has also been dissecting a giant squid, but that's not the squid getting press.) The AP's mistake is a particular let-down because it ran a story yesterday that explained the difference between the two squids.

Other squid mixer-uppers include HuffPo, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and The Mail on Sunday, whose headline is otherwise quite fine: "Calamari for 500: Scientists defrost giant squid with 10.8 inch eyes."

Beyond nomenclature, there's more to learn about the colossal squid: It's a girl -- researchers found ovaries containing thousands of itty-bitty squid eggs. Also, on the museum's blog, scientists report that the creature's flesh is very plastic, even "gelatinous."

Here's how one museum staffer describes what the squid feels like:

It's cold -- not surprising. It's smooth, slimey. The gills felt extremely fragile, you could hardly feel them at all other than slime. They were breaking up in my fingers....

What I was really intrigued about was the eye-sockets. Ours are bone. Eyes are squishy and need that support -- so I don't know why I was surprised at how solid the cartilage felt, kind of like a glue gun stick before you melt it....

Now I'm off to face my fears and let one of the scientists stick a sucker on my finger --- ewwwwww.

JUST DONE IT! I've been suckered by a sucker from the big colossal still defrosting (it fell off -- honest!)

It reminded me of an eyeball that wouldn't come off my palm -- when you pull it off it makes a kissey noise.

Read more squid live-blogging here.

Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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