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Friday Squid Blogging: The Language of the Jumbo Flying Squid

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The jumbo flying squid (Dosidicus gigas) uses its color-changing ability as a language:

In 2020, however, marine biologists discovered that jumbo flying squid are surprisingly coordinated. Despite their large numbers, the squid rarely bumped into each other or competed for the same prey. The scientists hypothesized that the flickering pigments allowed the squid to quickly communicate complex messages, such as when it was preparing to attack and what it was targeting.

The researchers observed that the squid displayed 12 distinct pigmentation patterns in a variety of sequences, similar to how humans arrange words in a sentence. For example, squid darkened while pursuing prey and then shifted to a half light/half dark pattern immediately before striking. The researchers hypothesized that these whole-body pigment changes signaled a precise action, such as “I’m about to attack.”

More interestingly (or worrisome), the researchers also believe the squid use subtle pigment changes to provide more context to the action. For example, they sometimes flashed pale stripes along their torso before darkening, possibly denoting the type or location of prey. This suggested that the squid may arrange the patterns to modify the meaning of other patterns, creating what humans call “syntax.”

As usual, you can also use this squid post to talk about the security stories in the news that I haven’t covered.

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