Marine Species: Flying SquidSimon Vetterli
We’ve all heard of flying fish, but flying squid? Let’s take a look at these astounding creatures, both in — and flying above — the water.
We’ve all heard of flying fish, but flying squid? Launching themselves through the air, these astounding creatures have only recently been documented out of water as they cruise alongside speeding marine craft. Despite the rare sightings, flying squid are, in fact, bountiful across the world’s oceans. Many ocean-goers may have witnessed a flying squid without knowing what it was.
The Japanese flying squid, Japanese common squid or Pacific flying squid, scientific name Todarodes pacificus, is a squid of the family Ommastrephidae. This animal lives in the northern Pacific Ocean, in the area surrounding Japan, along the entire coast of China up to Russia, then spreading across the Bering Strait east towards the southern coast of Alaska and Canada. They tend to cluster around the central region of Vietnam.
Neon flying squid (Akaika)
Researchers from Hokkaido University in Japan cross-examined a shoal of 100 squid hundreds of miles off the coast of Tokyo. The scientists specifically sought the neon flying squid. This species can fly for more than 100 feet (30 m) for up to three seconds as it escapes predators. This 8-inch-long (20 cm) cephalopod propels itself from the water by opening its frontal mantle, a technique that allows it to draw in water. Consequently, the high-pressure jet of water launches the squid. Once airborne, the squid spreads out its various fins and arms (10 arms and two feeding tentacles), which allows it to glide through the air, at times with great speed, before folding back its fins to re-enter the water.
Distribution and habitat
Located throughout the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans, neon flying squid generally congregate along cold-water fronts. Here, they feed on phytoplankton and zooplankton near the surface at night. These squid live most of their lives descending to depths of 1,000 feet (300 m) and obtain an average life expectancy of one year. eon flying squid are a stunning mauve color and will grow up to 24 inches (60 cm) long.
Often targeted by commercial drift-net fishing operations — especially the Japanese — we know that the squid spend their summer and fall months in the northern latitudes before heading south during the winter to spawn. Neon flying squid play an important role in the pelagic ecosystem. And, as with so many other species in the pelagic zone, both fishing demand and warming oceans are major threats. The Japanese squid can live in water from 5 to 27 °C, and tend to inhabit the upper layers of the ocean. They are short-lived, only surviving about a year.
Within this year of life, the squid mature from their larval form, feed and grow, migrate, and at the end of their lives, congregate at the mating grounds, where they reproduce. Three subpopulations have been identified in Japanese waters. “The main group spawns in winter in the East China Sea, the second in autumn, west of Kyushu, and the third, minor group in spring/summer in the Sea of Japan as well as off northeastern Japan.
“Their migration moves north, then south, tending to follow the surface currents. The squid tend to travel in large schools of more or less uniform size [meaning] that it is often possible to follow the growth of cohorts from recruitment to spawning, although the earliest part of the life history is generally more difficult to study because the larvae are always pelagic and some are rarely caught”.
Squid generally only live one year because as soon as they reproduce, they die. Males mature first, and “transfer their spermatophores on the still immature females.” Then, on the continuing journey south, the females “mature and spawn 300 to 4,000 small, elliptical or semi-spherical eggs.” The squid migrate together, and lay all their eggs in the same area where they were born. The eggs hatch into larvae after only 102–113 hours (somewhere around five days), depending on the water temperature.
Squid are difficult to study individually in the lab, because “the animals appear to become stressed by isolation. However, the planktonic larvae are believed to feed on phytoplankton and zooplankton until they grow large enough to begin feeding on fish. When the squid mature more, they will eat mainly fish and crustaceans, but will also resort to cannibalism, especially when trapped in nets together.