|Image: Chris Frazee and Margaret McFall-Ngai|
It can only be the Bobtail Squid, some 60 species in the Sepiolidae family. Despite their name, they're not really squid. They look and live more like cuttlefish, and they are indeed more closely related to them. But they're not really cuttlefish, either.
Instead, they're... Bobtail Squid. They're just different is all. Deal with it.
|Image: Patrick Randall|
You can see why they're also known as Dumpling Squid!
There are several differences between dumplings and Dumpling Squid. Yes, several. One is that while a dumpling may be filled with fish or tiny lumps of a cow, the dumpling itself didn't put them there like some horror movie where empty parcels of dough come alive and reduce their victims to a skeleton in a matter of minutes like a pack of piranha. Leave that to the slugs. Although, if you could train them to do that it'd save the chef some time.
|Image: Ewald Rübsamen|
They can also swim around if they want, though most Bobtails spend a lot of their time on the seabed. When they do swim, they do so by flapping an enormous pair of fins much like a Dumbo Octopus. This is unlike cuttlefish who can simply undulate their fins to get around or hover motionless in elegant fashion.
Video: NW Scuba Diver
This difference in swimming style probably has something to do with the Bobtail's lack of what's known as a cuttlebone. The cuttlebone is a tough, internal structure which is all that's left of the cuttlefish's ancestral shell. It's full of gas and the cuttlefish uses it to control buoyancy. Without this bit of technological fine-tuning, the Bobtail is left flapping around like an adorable maniac.
All this activity occurs at night, by day the little Bobtails hide away from predators. But there's a clear problem...
|Image: Mark Norman / Museum Victoria|
It's time to ninja things up.
Bobtail Squid bury themselves beneath the surface of the seabed. They rock back and forth to shift the sand and mud out of the way. Once they're buried up to the eyeballs they use their tentacles to spread sediment over their back, entirely covering their glistening and decidedly eye-catching body. They're also covered in glands that secrete a sticky mucus so they can glue sand onto their body!
You have to be thorough when you're THAT glamorous. Glamorous and covered in mucus. It does NOT get any better!
|Image: Rickard Zerpe|
Sticky suit of sand
This time they must say hello to a little friend. By which I mean they need to house and feed millions of microscopic bacteria. Pff. Same old story. You say "hi, how are you?" to a chum and the next thing you know they're sleeping on the couch, eating all your food and inviting all their friends over for a party.
The bacteria in question is Vibrio fischeri. It can live just fine in the water but it prefers to have somewhere nice to stay where it doesn't have to get its own food. Bobtail Squid provide them with just such a place. It's a special organ in their mantle, full of delicious sugars and amino acids. Mmmmm... amino acid.
|Image: Rickard Zerpe|
Nibbling on an enormous shrimp
At least some Bobtail Squid will rudely eject some 90% of their bacteria every morning, simply squirting them out through some pores in their light organ. The bacteria that are left will have plenty to eat and divide and divide and divide all day so they glow anew come nightfall.
This form of camouflage is known as countershading. Most Bobtail Squid live in shallow water and do it at night to merge into the moonlight, but there are many creatures who do the same thing to mask their shadow in the twilight haze of the deep sea.
Well, whaddaya know...
Deep sea Bobtail Squid!
There are deep sea Bobtail Squid who spend a lot of their time resting on the sea floor, just like their shallow water brethren...
Video: NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program
But others are far more pelagic, enjoying the open ocean and not visiting the seabed much at all.
|Image: Richard E. Young|
One really cool thing about them is they've added a whole new ninja defence to their arsenal. Remember how Bobtails can eject 90% of their glow-in-the-dark bacteria every morning? Well, H. hawaiiensis does something similar. They dazzle predators by squirting a cloud of bioluminescence at them and escape in a puff of light!
A Bobtail's relationship with glowing bacteria begins at an exceedingly early age.
|Image: Adrien Uichico|
She then lays a clutch of eggs. The eggs are sticky and can be covered in sand to hide them from predators.
|Image: Macroscopic Solutions|
Hawaiian Bobtail Squid (Euprymna scolopes) paralarva
The youngsters grow quickly. In some species they could be laying eggs of their own in a couple months and dead at just 3 months old. You can bury yourself underground, stick camouflage onto your body with glue or infest your body with bacteria to act as a cloaking device, but you can't stop the months from rolling by.
Live fast, die pretty.