When Squids Fly

Most animals, when faced with a threat, have to choose between two basic responses: standing their ground and getting aggressive (fight) or getting the hell out of Dodge (flight). Since this is a matter of life or death, choosing the appropriate response from the fight-or-flight option menu is pretty crucial, and some animals have evolved to respond in style.

Like many animals that live in hard-to-reach-for-humans places, squids–all some 300 species of them”“are still a pretty big mystery for scientists. Some of the basics have been worked out–their general place on the evolutionary tree, their large-relative-to-their-body-size penises, which are second in relative size only to the barnacle, their ability to use jet propulsion to guide their movement–but huge questions remain about basic parts of their biology. If there is no other take-away from squids, they are at least primo examples of just how much we still have to learn about the basic mechanics of the natural world.

Just how much we have yet to learn was illustrated by a recent discovery: some species of squid can fly. Okay, okay, they can’t REALLY fly, like a bird or an airplane or Superman, but they can propel themselves out of the water up to a height of 2 meters. These dudes and dudettes can travel up to 10 meters out of the water, a pretty good distance considering that’s 50 times the squid’s body length. Hell, it’s a pretty good distance in general–American football would be a totally different game if football players could do the same thing.

So how do they do it? Um, well, this is the part where we don’t exactly know (we don’t know is a surprisingly common science answer–that’s why we do science, to find shit out), but scientists believe that it has something to do with the jet propulsion I mentioned earlier. The squids fill up with water and then expel it forcefully to launch themselves out of the water. There are even some hypotheses floating around that the squids use their fins and tentacles to guide themselves during flight. These squids don’t just glide–they use all the tools/tentacles they can to maximize the utility of their time in the air.

And why do they do it? Maybe my set up ruined this reveal, but scientists believe that the squid launch themselves out of the water to get out of the way of an on-coming predator–the squids take fight-or-flight very literally. After all, it is better to be a flying squid than a dead snack.

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