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Flying Cephalopods

The content below is from Episode 121 of the Who’d a Thunk It? Podcast

RECOMMENDATION SEGMENT

  • This week I recommend you watch the History Channel’s ALONE.
    • Alone is an American adventure reality game show on History. It follows the self-documented daily struggles of 10 individuals (seven paired teams in season 4) as they survive alone in the wilderness for as long as possible using a limited amount of survival equipment. With the exception of medical check-ins, the participants are isolated from each other and all other humans. They may “tap out” at any time, or be removed due to failing a medical check-in. The contestant who remains the longest wins a grand prize of $500,000. The seasons have been filmed across a range of remote locations, usually on Indigenous-controlled lands, including northern Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Nahuel Huapi National Park in Argentine Patagonia, northern MongoliaGreat Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories, and Chilko Lake in interior British Columbia.
      • Contestants are dropped off in a remote wilderness area, far enough apart to ensure that they will not come in contact with one another. The process begins in mid to late autumn; this adds time pressure to the survival experience as the approaching winter causes temperatures to drop and food to become scarce. Although terrains may differ in each contestant’s location, the drop-off zones are assessed in advance to ensure a similar distribution of local resources is available to each contestant.
      • Contestants each select 10 items of survival gear from a pre-approved list of 40, and are issued a kit of standard equipment, clothing and first aid/emergency supplies. They are also given a set of cameras to document their daily experiences and emotions. Attempting to live in the wild for as long as possible, the contestants must find food, build shelters, and endure deep isolation, physical deprivation and psychological stress.
      •  Contestants are warned that the show might last for up to a year.
    • Unlike most reality TV shows, ALONE is completely unscripted. It is the most realistic reality show I have ever seen.
    • It might sound boring to some, but if you have any interest in the outdoors at all, you will enjoy Alone.
    • The winner of season 6 was on the Joe Rogan Experience and that I how I heard about the show.
  • Alone makes me want to build a prehistoric subterranian dwelling in my backyard, set up fish traps, and try to make my own bow to go hunting.
    • It unlocks a very specific kind of curiosity and call to adventure.
    • But what the participants go through is NOT easy. It is one of the most difficult challenges anyone can undertake.
    • Nature and isolation have a way of bringing all the things you subconsciously ignore or distract from to the forefront of your mind. Aside from the physical challenges of predators, hypothermia, and starvation, these people are put through a mental gauntlet of pain and stress. And some of them just cannot take it.
    • Minor spoiler here: I’m watching season 8 now and one guy said in the first few days of his trip that he will miss his family and that his young daughter passed away not too long before he went on Alone. Well, just a few weeks into his stay, after displaying some very impressive survival skills, he turned to face his camera and gave a speech that brought me to tears. He talked about his daughter’s passing and how he couldn’t face that pain head on without his wife and son by his side. While other contestants suffer severe starvation (some losing over 60 pounds) and injury, this guy walked away from $500,000 in good physical health… and I didn’t blame him.
    • I rarely judge these people for tapping out because it just seems so damn difficult.

NOW FOR THE MAIN EVENT

  • In 1947 there was a Scandinavian expedition that included 6 explorers out at sea, specifically in the Pacific Ocean. These 6 men saw something that had previously been undocumented and took them by surprise.
    • As they sped across the world’s largest ocean with their boat, they kept noticing squid on the roof. This was particularly puzzling because squid are known to stay in the depths of the ocean. Some species stay so deep that they are only seen dead and washed ashore.
    • They saw these poor creatures being baked by the sun’s rays atop their vessel’s roof and tried to find out how they got there. They looked up to the sky as if they might see sea creatures being rained down upon them from the heavens… but of course, they saw no such thing.
      • Fun Fact: sometimes fish, jellyfish, and other sea creatures do “rain down,” but that is due to heavy-duty vortex winds that suck up large amounts of seawater at a time and then deposit them across great distances. I know this sounds crazy, but it is a real thing. CLICK THIS LINK TO LEARN MORE
        • That is not what was happening here. These squid were not raining down from the sky.
    • If there were no squid raining down from the sky then how did these deep sea dwellers get there? All of a sudden one of the 6 explorers spots something out of the corner of his eye: it was something flying above the waves. He called his fellow explorers and they all gazed out at numbers of squid gliding through the air for about 50 meters (or about 55 yards) at a time.
    • When these explorers reached land again they tried telling their story, but no one believed them. They were telling people that sea creatures that had no bones, let alone wings, were soaring through the air at about half the length of a football field.
    • But then the world began to take notice.
      • Other sailors started to look out of the windows of their motorboats and see squid flying next to their boats and keeping pace with their engines.
      • Sea biologists began filing reports of captive squid fleeing their tanks somehow when they weren’t looking.
      • THIS WAS REALLY HAPPENING
    • Then the camera became more of a household item and photo evidence was taken of squid freaking flying through the air.
Sorry, I couldn’t resist. I googled “photos of flying squid” and this image was one of the results. It is from the popular video game Minecraft. This is a squid from the game that is glitching out by being in the air. It made me chuckle.
  • So now the world believed those 6 Scandinavian explorers, or at least some people did. I myself didn’t hear about this phenomenon until I watched a 5-minute TEDTalk about it just a few years ago.
  • But how and why would squid fly?
    • Their physical makeup is so different from other flying creatures and one would think flying into the air would be an invitation for birds to easily pick these tasty morsels up for a meal.
    • It is important to note that not all squid species can fly. In fact, most of them cannot. Only a select few species can take flight.
    • But all squid do use the same method of propulsion to get around.
      • Squid use their Mantle (the largest part of their body that we typically think of as their head) to suck up the surrounding water and then it uses the massive Mantle muscles to push out the water at a high velocity near their mouth at the base of their body.
      • They are basically water jetpack creatures. That is why they are always seen swimming backward from the vantage point of their tentacles. Their cone heads, or mantles, are always in the front when they are traversing the ocean.
  • This method of propulsion is also how they breathe. Inside that giant mantle are gills and when they are forcing water over those gills they are supplying them with oxygen.
    • Most squid use this method of movement to swim away from predators or hunt prey, but some use it to take flight out here in Earth’s atmosphere.
    • The difference being that once a squid breaks the barrier between dense water and light air their acceleration changes. These creatures move around at about 10 km/hr (6.2 mph) in the water, but once they reach the thin air they go from 0 to 100km/hr (0 to 62mph) in just 1 second.
    • At 40km/hr (29 mph) the squid creates an aerodynamic lift. This is where their weird head flap things come into play, and also their weird cephalopod characteristics.
  • Their head flaps act as a steering mechanism while their muscular hydrostats for tentacles act as wings.
    • This is almost too weird to comprehend, but just look at cephalopods (octopus, squids, cuttlefish, nautilus, etc.) they are so different from us evolutionarily speaking that their behavior and abilities seem alien.
    • A squid’s tentacles are muscular hydrostats and that means the connective tissue can be kept firm with muscular tension being applied. They sprawl out their tentacles in a rigid formation and basically create wings in an instant.
      • To me that is cool, but also horrifying and I start imagining flying vampire squid soaring through the air to suck my blood.
        • Fun Fact: the Vampire Squid is an actual species and it looks like this:
  • Their muscular hydrostatic tentacle wings make up the bulk of the winged force, but those head flaps (which are typically used for gentle swimming and directional maneuvering are now used as a 2nd set of wings out in the open air.
    • Most squid can fly as high as 6 meters (20 feet) above the water, but most stay as close to the water as possible to travel as far as they can horizontally.
    • Although there haven’t been too many flying squid sightings, the thought is that they stay close to the water’s surface so that they can easily dip back down for more fuel. Biologists also think they might stay close to make a quick getaway from any would-be bird predators.
  • So that’s the how… but what about the why?
    • why would a squid decide to take flight?
    • Some think they are fleeing from a nearby predator. Since they are seen near ships, they might be perceiving our human vessels as predators and take flight to get away.
      • This would be quite an effective strategy. Could you imagine it from the fish’s perspective? It is about to secure a meal and all of a sudden it juts out into a realm that is virtually inaccessible to you. It would be like going to take a bight out of a cheeseburger and then watching as that cheeseburger slips into a different dimension.
    • Others suggest the squid fly to save energy on their migration patterns. It takes less energy to zip through the air at 60mph than it does to slowly sludge through the thick water.
    • The other thought is that smaller squid take flight to get away from larger squid. Squids cannibalize each other. The larger and older squid eat the smaller and younger squid. So perhaps flying is an essential part of growing up for squid.
    • Sort of similar to bullying at the adolescent age for humans, squid avoid being victimized by the larger squid because they can soar faster and farther than the large squid.
  • Whatever the reason, I find it mind-blowing that squid can fly, and if I ever see it in the wild I will probably start geeking out immediately.

THANKS FOR LISTENING (OR READING) WHO’D A THUNKERS!

UNTIL NEXT TIME

CREDIT

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's a squid