Sunday 1 September 2013

Grimalditeuthis bonplandi

Image: MBARI
How the weak shall inherit the earth. Or at least the sea.

Grimalditeuthis! Now there's a name for you! The House of Grimaldi was founded in 1160 by Grimaldo Canella, a prominent statesman of the Most Serene Republic of Genoa. They soon became one of its most powerful families, which meant they couldn't help but wade neck-deep in the murky world of politics and conspiracy, civil war and exile, and struggle between the Holy Roman Emperor and the Pope.

Image: Mathieu CHAINE
Grimaldi arms
In 1297, as part of this continuing intrigue, Francesco Grimaldi thought it would be a cool idea to take control of the castle in Monaco. The city of Monaco was part of Genoa at this time and the castle was on top of a monolith known as the Rock. It would serve well as a base of operations so he dressed up as a Franciscan monk and convinced the guards to open the gates. Then he invited them to say hello to a little friend he liked to call "an army".

It was tactics like that which got him known as il Malizia, the Cunning.

Unfortunately he was ousted 4 years later and it wasn't until 1419 that the Grimaldis finally secured permanent possession of Monaco. It took centuries and who knows how many generations, but it sure shows the value of writing stuff down so that all your descendants know what you want your surname to be doing after you're gone.

Prince Albert I
With all that done and dusted, there wasn't much for young Albert Honoré Charles Grimaldi to do. He was born in 1848, and in order to become Prince Albert I of Monaco he needed only to wait for his dad to die. So he did. In the meantime he became an oceanographer, founded the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco and explored the Mediterranean, the Azores and for a change of climate, an island off Norway called Spitsbergen.

He even got a bit of Spitsbergen named after him! It's called Albert I Land. Which is weird.

In 1898, he finally got a squid to call his own. Dreams come true after all!  It's Grimalditeuthis, teuthis meaning "squid". This honour was bestowed on the honoured-quite-enough-already prince by Louis Joubin, who happens to have a very dainty Joubiniteuthis of his own. These oceanographers sure stick together.

Image: Richard E. Young
Grimaldi arms
So... I guess that's a really long way of saying that G. bonplandi has been known about for a long time, but there has always been something of a mystery surrounding them. The question is: how can something so flimsy, weak and lacking in robust, manly virtue catch the food required to sustain themselves?

Most squid have a pair of powerful, muscular tentacles for snatching prey. They each end in a club festooned with suckers and cruel claws for gaining a merciless grip on their victims. But G. bonplandi is different.

Their tentacles are thin and extremely weak, with very little musculature. The clubs at the end have no claws, no suckers, and nothing else that might strike fear in the hearts of the small squid and shrimp they somehow manage to feast upon.

So it's a good thing they finally managed to film one in its natural environment!

Video: MBARIvideo

The squid was spotted lazing about at a depth of some 1,000 metres (3,300 ft), its transparent body leaving little to the imagination. The long tentacles appear to have a will of their own. Instead of the squid extending its tentacles with those weak muscles, the clubs seem to swim of their own accord, dragging and stretching the tentacles behind them while the rest of the squid looks on.

When the squid wants to leave, it swims toward those tentacle clubs until they're close enough for it to lovingly cradle them in numerous arms. All in all, it's rather like an inquisitive puppy at the end of one of those retractable dog leads.

It's thought that the tentacle club may be mimicking the movement of a small creature in the sea. Prey is lured closer, thinking they're closing in on a potential mate or something nice to eat. At these depths it's too dark for the tentacles to be seen, so perhaps their motion causes bioluminescence in nearby plankton or turbulence in the water which attracts prey.

No-one has seen G. bonplandi catch anything, so it isn't known what it would do when dinner is within reach. One thing is clear though, Grimalditeuthis il Malizia doesn't need a Franciscan monk outfit to be cunning.


TexWisGirl said...

interesting bit of history. sneaking in as a monk. :)

Joseph JG said...

The monk thing is nuts! Much cheaper and less time-consuming than the giant wooden horse of Troy.

Unknown said...

Is that a spot of luminescence where the tentacles join, by the mouth, around the one minute mark? Wonder if that would lure small prey in, that then get tangled in the tentacles if it tries to back out . . . and the squid chomps at whatever it can bite. Probably doesn't require much energy they way it drifts along, so maybe a mouthful here and there is enough.

Lear's Fool said...

Is it just me or does the tentacle tip look surprisingly close to a small squid?

Because then it's almost like using a fake baby on a leash to catch tiny bears.

Joseph JG said...

@Christopher Hall: Possibly, or might just be light from the submersible reflecting. It does look quite bright, though! And yes, I get the sense this squid is physically very weak and inactive, I don't think it needs much food to live on at all!

@Lear's Fool: I can see what you mean! A baby to catch bears... I guess ethics is one of the first things to go in the deep sea!

Anonymous said...

Joseph Jameson Gould has commented on nearly everything.

Anonymous said...

And now I realize he owns the site. Oops. Sorry Joseph Jameson-Gould. hi

Joseph JG said...

Hahaha! No problem. Hello!