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Giant squid, once believed to be mythical creatures, are squid of the Architeuthidae family, represented by as many as eight species of the genus Architeuthis.


 


Real giants: They are deep-ocean dwelling squid that can grow to a tremendous size: recent estimates put the maximum size at 10 m (34 ft) for males and 13 m (44 ft) for females from caudal fin to the tip of the two long tentacles (second only to the Colossal Squid at an estimated 14 m, one of the largest living organisms). The mantle length, though, is only about 2 m (7 ft) in length (more for females, less for males), and the length of the squid excluding its tentacles is about 5 m (16 ft). There were reported claims of specimens of up to 20 m (66 ft), but none had been scientifically documented.

Light giants: Despite their great length, giant squid are not particularly heavy when compared to their chief predator, the Sperm Whale, because the majority of their length is taken up by their eight arms and two tentacles. The weights of recovered specimens have been measured in hundreds, rather than thousands, of kilograms. Post-larval juveniles have been discovered in surface waters off New Zealand, and there are plans to capture more such juveniles and maintain them in an aquarium in an attempt to learn more about the creature's biology and habits.


Second largest eyes: Giant squid possess the second largest eyes of any living creature, over 1 foot (30 cm) in diameter, and their arms are equipped with hundreds of suction cups in total; each is mounted on an individual "stalk" and equipped around its circumference with a ring of sharp teeth to aid the creature in capturing its prey by firmly attaching itself to it both by suction and perforation. The size of these suction cups can vary from 2 to 5 cm in diameter (one to two inches), and it is not uncommon to find their circular scars on the head area of sperm whales that have fed — or attempted to feed — upon giant squid. The only other known predator of the adult giant squid is the Pacific sleeper shark, found off Antarctica, but it is not yet known whether these sharks actively hunt the squid, or are simply scavengers of squid carcasses. Because sperm whales are skilled at locating giant squid, scientists have attempted to conduct in-depth observations of sperm whales in order to study squid.

Buoyant and untasty: One of the more unusual aspects of giant squid (as well as some other species of large squid) is their reliance upon the low density of ammonia in relation to seawater to maintain neutral buoyancy in their natural environment, as they lack the gas-filled swim bladder that fish use for this function; instead, they use ammonia (in the form of ammonium chloride) in the fluid of their flesh throughout their bodies, making it taste not unlike salmiakki. This makes the giant squid unattractive for general human consumption, although sperm whales seem to be attracted by (or are at least tolerant of) its taste.

Growth rings: Like all cephalopods they use special organs called statocysts to sense their orientation and motion in the water. The age of giant squids can be estimated by "growth rings" in the statocyst's "statolyth" much like counting tree rings. Much of what is known about these animals come from estimates based on these, and from undigested beaks found in sperm whale stomachs.


Mysterious mating: The reproductive cycle of the giant squid is still a great mystery, but what has been learned so far is both bizarre and fascinating; male giant squid are equipped with a prehensile spermatophore-depositing tube, or penis, of over 3 feet (90 cm) in length, which extends from inside the animal's mantle and apparently is used to inject sperm-containing packets into the female squid's arms — how exactly the sperm then is transferred to the egg mass is a matter of much debate, but the recent recovery in Tasmania of a female specimen having a small subsidiary tendril attached to the base of each of its eight arms could be a vital clue in the solution of this enigma. The giant squid lacks the hectocotylus used for reproduction in many other cephalopods.

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 Kingdom: Animalia

 Phylum: Mollusca

 Class: Cephalopoda

 Subclass: Coleoidea

 Order: Teuthida

 Suborder: Oegopsina

 Family: Architeuthidae

 Genus: Architeuthis