The piglet squid is a squidgy little enigma
These elusive little cephalopods charm with their cartoonish appearance and intrigue with their gelatinous, transparent bodies. Those spots you can see in the image above are chromatophores, or pigment organs, which, when you look at the piglet squid from front-on, give it the appearance of a broad smile:
The piglet squid (Helicocranchia pfefferi) grows to about 8 or 10 cm long. It’s found throughout the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, ranging from tropical to polar waters. It can live at depths of just 1 metre to more than a kilometre below the surface – an unusually wide range for such a delicate creature.
It’s been spotted off the coast of Australia right down in the south-eastern corner of the mainland and occasionally in Tasmanian waters.
The piglet squid’s ‘nose’ is an exposed syphon, a hole used for filling itself with water, breathing and propulsion. Oddly enough, the piglet squid is able to keep itself buoyant by regulating the levels of ammonium (yes, the same kind of chemical you use to clean the oven) and sodium ions throughout its body.
You can see the way it bobs around in the ocean as these chemical levels ebb and flow within its balloon-like mantle (the main body of a squid) in the amazing deep-sea footage below. It was captured by a robotic underwater rover in the Palmyra Atoll, located in the Pacific Ocean roughly halfway between Australia and Mexico:
Piglet squids belong to the family Cranchiidae, which comprises roughly 60 species of glass squid, named for their transparent bodies.
Glass squid have been known to display an unusual habit of swimming upside-down, and no one really knows why they do it. It gives them the appearance of having a weird mop of hair, their arms and tentacles flowing freely above their eyes.
It’s why they’re also known as cockatoo squids, as this species, from the genus Taonius, shows off so beautifully:
Sadly, piglet squids aren’t long for this world after their reproductive duties are fulfilled. Males perform various interesting displays to attract a female, and once they decide to mate, the male will grasp onto the female and insert a specialised arm called a hectocotylus into her mantle to transfer the sperm.
Once this is done, the male will soon die. And once the female has laid her eggs and brooded them for long enough to hatch, she too will die off.
Let’s be honest, it’s a tough world out there if you’re squid. But at least, if you’re a piglet squid, you can also be a meme.