Jet-propelled and flight-capable, iridescent and elastic, squid are a true marvel of nature. They’re fast: they can swim twice as fast as an Olympic champion, shoot their tentacles in less time than it takes you to blink, and alter their appearance at literally the speed of thought. They’re flashy: some grow luminous lures at the ends of their arms, others squirt self-portraits in ink, and their skin creates any color from vivid red to iridescent blue. Yet most humans don’t know a lot about squid. We tend to view them through the lenses of either mythology or gastronomy, limiting these wondrous creatures to the role of terrifying Kraken or tasty calamari.
Though little known among the general population, the true story of squid is every bit as fascinating as any Kraken myth. 200 million years before dinosaurs arose, cephalopods – the ancestors of modern squid and octopuses – ruled the seas. They were Earth’s first predators, and its first really substantial animals, with dozens of tentacles and shells large enough for a person to crawl inside. They invented swimming and buoyancy—they were the first creatures ever to rise from the sea floor, by filling their shells with lightweight gas. For millions of years, they ruled an undersea empire. Then fish evolved, and the ocean’s top predator became its most delicious snack.
Cephalopods responded by streamlining their shells, adding defensive spines, and in some cases abandoning their shells entirely, opening the gates to a flood of evolutionary innovations. They managed to survive three major extinction events, including the one that killed off the dinosaurs, and evolved into today’s shape-shifting, fast-swimming, quick-thinking squid and octopuses. They are now considered an ‘ecological keystone’ and hunted voraciously by predators including sperm whales, elephant seals and – of course – humans, who have also discovered many uses for them outside the kitchen. Squid nerve cells helped us to elucidate the whole of modern neuroscience, their chitin is the basis of biothermoplastics used in 3D printing, and their uncanny, immeasurable intelligence holds a lasting fascination for scientists. Through it all, squid continue to survive, thrive and adapt to their rapidly changing environment.
EMPEROR TENTACLE explores the squid’s extraordinary 500-million-year history, from its humble origins as a snail in the mud, through its glory days as massive monarch of the seas, to its tragic decline to a life of hunted prey. It is an epic adventure spanning hundreds of millions of years, from the primordial seas to the calamari on your dinner plate.