Sucker For Cephalopods? Cephalopod Week Has You Covered

9:48 minutes

Cephalopod Week logoFor eight glorious days during the end of June, Science Friday honors the mighty mollusks of the ocean—Cephalopod Week returns for the sixth year! And we’re cephalo-brating with a tidal wave of ways for you to participate. This year, we want to know your favorite cephalopod. Is it the charismatic giant Pacific octopus or the long-lived chambered nautilus? Science Friday digital producer Lauren Young and biologist Diana Li add their own favorite cephalopods to the ultimate undersea showdown. They talk about the bizarre defenses of the blanket octopus, speedy squid getaways (check out Diana Li’s squid prints below!), and octopuses that play with LEGOs.   

Have a favorite cephalopod? Give us your best argument! Record a voice memo on your voice recording app and send your audio stories to voices@sciencefriday.com. Or leave us a message at 567-243-2456.  

Join the poddy on social media throughout our eight-day celebration at #CephalopodWeek and find all the ways you can get in on the squiddy fun here!

Learn how to make your own squid prints in this activity!

Featured Reading

  • See if Cephalopod Movie Night is coming to a city near you! Tickets are on sale now.
  • Watch how researchers are trying to decode how the octopus controls its multi-armed mind in a new SciFri Macroscope video.
  • Learn about what’s in store for Cephalopod Week 2019 and all the ways you can join in on the cephalo-party.
  • Discover all our articles, videos, education activities, and radio segments in the Cephalopod Week Spotlight.

Join Science Friday’s Sea Of Support

With every donation of $8 (for every day of Cephalopod Week), you can sponsor a different illustrated cephalopod. The cephalopod badge along with your first name and city will be a part of our Sea of Supporters!


Segment Guests

Diana Li

Diana Li is a biologist and science communicator in Monterey, California. She has a Ph.D. in Biology from Stanford University.

Lauren J. Young

Lauren J. Young was Science Friday’s digital producer. When she’s not shelving books as a library assistant, she’s adding to her impressive Pez dispenser collection.

Segment Transcript

IRA FLATOW: The summer solstice is upon us. The kids are done with school. But what makes the third week in June most notable for us? It’s time for the mighty mollusks to take over Science Friday. That’s right. It’s the kickoff to Cephalopod Week. And I know what you’re thinking. What more is there to know? Well, this whole week, we’re going to be filling it with cephalopod surprises. And here to us about all of the fun is Science Friday’s digital producer, Lauren Young, our number one cephalopod aficionado. Welcome to Science Friday back. Good to see you. 

LAUREN YOUNG: Hey, Ira. Happy Cephalopod Week. 

IRA FLATOW: Of course. And Diana Lee, a biologist and science communicator at Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station in Monterey, California. Welcome to Science Friday. 

DIANA LEE: Hi, it’s great to be back, Ira. 

IRA FLATOW: Nice to have you back. Lauren, we’ve been celebrating the cephalopod– wow, I can’t believe it. It’s six– 

LAUREN YOUNG: Yeah, isn’t that incredible? 

IRA FLATOW: Six years now. OK, for the newbies among us, give us a rundown of what Cephalopod Week is. 

LAUREN YOUNG: Absolutely, so Cephalopod Week is our annual eight day celebration of my favorite group of ocean creatures, including the squid, the cuttlefish, octopus, chamber nautilus, and so many more. During Cephalopod Week, we all come together and share our love for these incredible invertebrates and geek out about them. So we at Science Friday have a bunch of things to do for you. We’ve got a bunch of upcoming stories and videos, activities that you can participate in. We actually already have a new video up right now about the fascinating brain of the octopus and how they move those nimble arms of theirs. And so I didn’t know this, but each of those eight arms can actually smell and taste. 


LAUREN YOUNG: Isn’t that bizarre? 

IRA FLATOW: That is. 

LAUREN YOUNG: It’s crazy. These researchers are studying how the octopus processes the information with 3D cameras and by letting them play with LEGOs. It’s so much fun. You can check out the video and watch them wrangle with LEGOs at ScienceFriday.com/cephalopodweek. 

IRA FLATOW: Yeah, I watched that already, them splashing around in the tank with LEGOs. 

LAUREN YOUNG: I know, it’s so great. 

IRA FLATOW: I wonder if they have a favorite. And we want people to participate, right? We’re putting out an open call to our listeners this year. 

LAUREN YOUNG: Yes, so it’s really going to be a cephalo party, so please join in on all the festivities that are hashtag at #CephalopodWeek. And this year, we’re doing something else, if you can record a voice memo telling us what is your favorite cephalopod and why. It’s really easy to do. All you need is any voice recording app on your smart device. And just record that and email it to voices@ScienceFriday.com. Or you can leave us a message at 567-243-2456. You can just leave us a message there. And we want your best argument for your favorite cephalopod. And at the end of the week, we’ll do a fun little montage, so everyone can listen and decide. 

IRA FLATOW: All right, as long as we’re asking everybody for their favorite cephalopod, well, it’s only fair that I ask what your favorite cephalopod is. 

LAUREN YOUNG: Sure, so it ebbs and flows with my mood a little bit. But right now, I am obsessed with something I saw on our Cephalopod Week Facebook group– the blanket octopus. So the females are really big and absolutely gorgeous, but you don’t really want to mess with them because they can pluck out the venomous tentacles of the Portuguese man of war. And they use them like weapons. And when the female blanket octopus is alarmed, they’ll stretch out their arms and unfurl this kind of gauzy cape of webbing behind them, casting a shadow over their predators. So to me, they’re kind of like the ultimate superheroes of the cephalopod world, soaring through the ocean. It’s pretty great. 

IRA FLATOW: And it’s great, OK. Diana Lee, let me get you to respond to that question. What is your favorite cephalopod? I know you study squid, right? 

DIANA LEE: Oh my goodness. Mmhm, yes. I’m a very squid centric person right now. And there are so many squids to choose from. I always love to bring up the big fin squid or the long arm squid. It’s one of those weird deep sea creatures. And they can be in total up to like 8 meters long. And what makes it so cool is that it has these huge, huge fins on one side of its body, just undulating so calmly and so gracefully. But then as you keep looking down this animal as it extends into the deep ocean on our Earth, it has these arms that kind of have this elbow-y looking hinge and then just like meters of arms dangling, hanging, waiting to maybe ensnare something unsuspecting. And just to think about, we see people and other mammals on land every day. But don’t forget that there are these incredible, weird, mysterious creatures on our own planet that look so alien. And we could celebrate them this whole week and just get really excited. So it’s gotta be that big fin squid for me. 

IRA FLATOW: I’m Ira Flatow, and this is Science Friday from WNYC Studios, talking about the kickoff of Cephalopod Week. And I want to ask you, Diana. You just got your PhD degree. And you’re an official squidologist now? 

DIANA LEE: Pretty much. I wish I could talk to them and have them talk to me. But this is the second best thing. 

IRA FLATOW: And you study squid locomotion. You had a study out of how squid make a speedy getaway in cold water. Tell us about that. 

DIANA LEE: Yeah, so I have a new study out in the Journal of Experimental Biology with the cover photos. I have my cover squid, cover girls on this cover. And basically, this is about the California market squid. Although they sound a little more common, less extreme than that big fin squid I just talked about, they in themselves are no less fascinating. And you might recognize them from your dinner plate– calamari, fried calamari. That’s probably them, but they in cold water– not only in cold water, but when that cold water has really, really low oxygen, a lot of them can tolerate that and still make those getaways. 

Even though they’re a little less speedy and a little less big, they can still make those big escapes. And that’s at oxygen at 5% saturation, which is about six times lower than the top of Mount Everest. So that’s super impressive, really extreme. And not only do they tolerate that, they can recover once more oxygen becomes available. So they live in this dynamic Monterey Bay habitat off of California. And they are exposed to all sorts of oxygen levels. And they are super adapted to dealing with that stress in a way that I just think is mind blowing. 

IRA FLATOW: Yeah, I can see that. And Lauren, if you want to hear more about Diana’s research and lots of other ceph scientists, we have some in-person events, right? 

LAUREN YOUNG: Yeah, Diana is actually going to be a part of our Cephalopod Movie Night in Sacramento tonight. I hear she’s got actually some fun squid balloon racing games, which sounds pretty fun. 

DIANA LEE: Yes. Mm-hmm. That is true. 

LAUREN YOUNG: I am very jealous. And we have a bunch of other movie nights throughout the week in 10 different locations, including San Antonio, Seattle, Los Angeles. So we’ll be screening those brand new cephalopod films and chatting with scientists on stage, going on squiddy scavenger hunt and things, and adventuring after hours in aquariums. It’s going to be a lot of fun. So make sure you get your tickets at ScienceFriday.com/cephalopodweek. And we’re also doing something else this year that’s really special, Ira, where I don’t know if you remember that Science Friday video that inspired Cephalopod Week, Where is the Octopus? 

IRA FLATOW: It’s still my favorite. 

LAUREN YOUNG: Yeah, it’s so great. 

IRA FLATOW: It’s still my favorite. 

LAUREN YOUNG: Well, the scientist Roger Hanlon who captured that viral video of the octopus camouflaging in and out of the seabed is going to be a part of our Reddit AMA with a panel of other cephalopod researchers. So that’ll be on Monday at 1:00 PM Eastern on the Ask Science subreddit. So you can ask all your burning stuff cephalopod questions then. 

IRA FLATOW: Mm-hmm, and remind us where we can learn all about this. 

LAUREN YOUNG: Yes, so check everything out at ScienceFriday.com/cephalopodweek. We’ll be posting things there. And also, of course, chime in on our hashtag, #CephalopodWeek. 

IRA FLATOW: One last question for you, Diana, what got you so interested in studying squid? 

DIANA LEE: Well, I believe some of my friends listening have heard me say this so many times, but at the risk of boring them on national radio, I will say it again. So I didn’t grow up with a lot of going out into nature. That wasn’t quite my childhood. But what happened was in high school in 11th grade, I went to a Shins concert. And the merch they were selling included this T-shirt on which they had drawn this squid. 

And I just thought it looked so cool, so strange. Not anything I really thought about before– I wondered, why do squids look like that? How can they live in the ocean, where, obviously, humans don’t live there. And I just had this kind of squiddy light bulb moment in my head that then through college, I took biology classes and realized people can get paid to study squids, and just learn about them, and share exciting news about them. So that led me on this path of doing research, and going to grad school, and getting a PhD in the topic. So you never know what things are going to lead you to in your life. 

IRA FLATOW: Mm-hmm. One last quick question– so you’re not squeamish about eating calamari then? I mean, it’s OK. 



DIANA LEE: I definitely have my favorite recipes, and I love– 

LAUREN YOUNG: You have to share them. 

DIANA LEE: Well, I’m not the best at making them. But when people make it really well, I can appreciate them as the eater. And I think one of the coolest things about when I talk to people about squid is I get to hear about people’s family recipes and how they make squid. And it just kind of brings it full circle for me in so many ways to appreciate the animal. 

IRA FLATOW: We’ve come full circle. And to talk about the events again, you can get tickets at ScienceFriday.com/cephalopodweek. I want to thank both my guests, Diana Lee, biologist at Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station, and Lauren Young, our number one cephalopod aficionado. 

LAUREN YOUNG: Thanks, Ira. 

IRA FLATOW: She’s our digital producer.

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Meet the Producers and Host

About Alexa Lim

Alexa Lim was a senior producer for Science Friday. Her favorite stories involve space, sound, and strange animal discoveries.

About Ira Flatow

Ira Flatow is the host and executive producer of Science FridayHis green thumb has revived many an office plant at death’s door.

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