Squid With ‘Giant’ Eggs Could Be A New Species

6:16 minutes

To finish up our celebration of Cephalopod Week we wanted to share a bit of squid news. A group of researchers recently identified a potentially new squid species in the family Gonatidae. Scientists took a closer look at some video footage captured back in 2015 and found a deep-water squid that was cradling some rather large eggs, which was not in line with other squid of the same family.

John Dankosky talks with Dr. Bruce Robison, midwater ecologist and senior scientist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, about this new discovery.

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Segment Guests

Bruce Robison

Bruce Robison is a senior scientist and midwater ecologist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in Moss Landing, California.

Segment Transcript

JOHN DANKOSKY: To finish up our celebration of Cephalopod Week, we wanted to share a bit of breaking squid news. A group of researchers recently identified a new squid species in the family Gonatidae. Scientists took a closer look at some video footage captured back in 2015, and they found a deep water squid, who is cradling some rather large eggs not in line with other squid of the same species. Hmm.

So joining me now to tell us more about this squid discovery is my guest. Dr. Bruce Robison is midwater ecologist and senior scientist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, based in Moss Landing, California. Dr. Robison, welcome to Science Friday.

BRUCE ROBISON: Thanks very much. Good day to you.

JOHN DANKOSKY: Well, first of all, to start off, describe what this species of squid looks like for the listeners at home.

BRUCE ROBISON: Well, it’s an ordinary-looking squid, kind of reddish brown in color, with eight arms and a big eye, because it lives in deep water and needs to collect a lot of light down there in the dark. What’s most remarkable about it is the size of the eggs that this mother squid was carrying in her arms.

JOHN DANKOSKY: So, how big are these eggs?

BRUCE ROBISON: Oh, I suppose it must be close to just under half an inch, I’d say.

JOHN DANKOSKY: OK, so under half an inch. I have no idea how big a normal squid egg is supposed to be. So, why is this so different?

BRUCE ROBISON: A normal squid egg is about half that size or less, down to an 1/8 of an inch. So these are monster eggs, in our experience anyway.

JOHN DANKOSKY: Oh, where exactly on the map did you find this squid?

BRUCE ROBISON: We were in the Gulf of California, Mexico. That’s that long arm of water that stretches up between the Baja Peninsula and the Mexican mainland.

JOHN DANKOSKY: So let’s get back to these giant eggs, these monster eggs, as you were talking about. So explain a little bit more about why it is that seeing eggs this size told you this is a different type of squid altogether.

BRUCE ROBISON: In part, it’s because the size was so different than what we typically see, but also the proportions of the squid’s body and the placement of suckers on its arms and the arrangement of hooks on the arms that it uses to grasp things with, all of those aspects told us that this was, indeed, something we had not seen before. It’s a familiar face, but not exactly what we’re accustomed to seeing.

JOHN DANKOSKY: So it sort of looks like the squid you’ve seen, but there’s some unusual things about it. What’s one of the significant things about these eggs being so large? I’m going to guess that a larger egg takes longer to grow to that size.

BRUCE ROBISON: Indeed, that’s the case. And particularly, at these great depths where the water is much colder, that slows down the development process as well. So these eggs will be developing for a long time. We estimate, oh, maybe a year and a half, whereas typical shallow water squids will have their eggs develop in two to three months.

JOHN DANKOSKY: A year and a half for these eggs to grow to this size– how long does the squid itself live? Do you know?

BRUCE ROBISON: Most cephalopods have one reproductive session, and then they die. So the mother squid brooding these eggs will die shortly after they hatch. They take their eggs down into deep water to protect them from predators. And they gently undulate the egg mass that they’re carrying in order to keep it oxygenated and keep the eggs clean. But they rely on reserves of nutrients that they store in their livers to get them through the brooding period.

JOHN DANKOSKY: So this brooding period, this way of taking care of eggs, is this common to basically all of the deep water squid that you study of this type? Or is there something unusual about the way that this squid was taking care of its eggs?

BRUCE ROBISON: This is a significant discovery. We first found a squid exhibiting parental care– that is, brooding eggs– back in 2005. Prior to that, everyone believed that there were only two ways that squids had their eggs developed. One was to deposit egg cases on the sea floor and then swim away and die, or to release a gelatinous mass of eggs and leave it free floating in the water.

So, once we discovered that was the case, we began looking for other deep, brooding squids. And we found another couple of species that exhibit the same kind of parental care. But in terms of other squids, this is a pretty rare occurrence.

JOHN DANKOSKY: We always talk to researchers, and they constantly say, especially for the cephalopods that live deep in the ocean, they’re constantly finding something new. I mean, do you have a sense of what percentage of the total type of cephalopod population we’ve actually discovered? You know, there are a lot more out there that we still need to find?

BRUCE ROBISON: I think there’s a great deal more that we have yet to learn. And in the few places that are well-studied, like the deep waters of Monterey Bay, if we’re still going out after, say, 30 years and finding new stuff on virtually every occasion we get into deep water, then think about the rest of the world ocean, which is not nearly as well-explored. I think the opportunities for discovery of new behavior patterns, of new ecological relationships, of new species is overwhelming.

JOHN DANKOSKY: Hopefully you can join us again sometime and talk about some new things that you’ve found. Dr. Bruce Robison is a midwater ecologist, senior scientist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, based in Moss Landing, California. Thanks so much, doctor.

BRUCE ROBISON: You’re welcome. Good to talk to you.

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