Skip to main content

Slow pace of life of the Antarctic colossal squid

  • Rui Rosa (a1) and Brad A. Seibel (a2)

The colossal squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni) is the world's largest invertebrate and its large size and some unique morphological characters have fuelled speculation that it is an aggressive top predator in the circum-Antarctic Southern Ocean. Here, we present estimates on the metabolic and energetic demands of this cold-water deep-sea giant. The estimated mass-specific routine metabolic rate for the colossal squid at 1.5°C was 0.036 µmol O2 h−1 g−1 and the projected daily energy consumption (45.1 kcal day−1) was almost constant as a function of depth in the nearly isothermal Antarctic waters. Our findings also indicate the squid shows a slow pace of life linked with very low prey requirements (only 0.03 kg of prey per day). We argue that the colossal squid is not a voracious predator capable of high-speed predator–prey interactions. It is, rather, an ambush or sit-and-float predator that uses the hooks on its arms and tentacles to ensnare prey that unwittingly approach.

Corresponding author
Correspondence should be addressed to: R. Rosa, Laboratório Marítimo da Guia, Centro de Oceanografia, Faculdade de Ciências da, Universidade de Lisboa, Avenida Nossa Senhora do Cabo, 939, 2750-374 Cascais, Portugal email:
Hide All
Armstrong, A.J., and Siegfried, W.R. (1991) Consumption of Antarctic krill by minke whales. Antarctic Science 3, 1318.
Atkinson, D. (1994) Temperature and organism size—a biological law for ectotherms? Advances in Ecological Research 25, 158.
Boyle, P. and Rodhouse, P.G. (2005) Cephalopods. Ecology and fisheries. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
Cherel, Y. and Duhamel, G. (2004) Antarctic jaws: cephalopod prey of sharks in Kerguelen waters. Deep-Sea Research I 51, 1731.
Cherel, Y. and Hobson, K.A. (2005) Stable isotopes, beaks and predators: a new tool to study the trophic ecology of cephalopods, including giant and colossal squids. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 272, 16011607.
Clarke, M.R. (1980) Cephalopoda in the diet of sperm whales of the southern hemisphere and their bearing on sperm whale biology. Discovery Reports 37, 324 pp.
Croll, D.A., Kudela, R. and Tershy, B.R. (2007) Ecosystem impact on the decline of large whales in North Pacific. In Estes, J.A., Demaster, D.P., Doak, D.F., Williams, T.M., Brownell, R.L. (eds) Whales, whaling and ocean ecosystem. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, pp. 20214.
Filippova, J.A. (1991) Morpho-ecological aspects of the study of Antarctic squids. Bulletin of Marine Science 49, 662.
Filippova, J.A. and Yukhov, V.L. (1979) Specific composition and distribution of cephalopod molluscs in meso- and bathypelagic Antarctic waters. Antarktika Doklady Komissi 18, 175187.
Fuiman, L.A., Davis, R.W. and Williams, T.M. (2002) Behavior of midwater fishes under the Antarctic ice: observations by a predator. Marine Biology 140, 815822.
Grist, E.P.M. and Jackson, G.H. (2007) How long would it take to become a giant squid? Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries 17, 385399.
Guinet, C., Domenici, P., de Stephanis, R., Barrett-Lennard, L., Ford, J.K.B. and Verborgh, P. (2007) Killer whale predation on bluefin tuna: exploring the hypothesis of the endurance–exhaustion technique. Marine Ecology Progress Series 347, 111119.
Innes, S., Lavigne, D.M., Earle, W.M. and Kovacs, K.M. (1987) Feeding rates of seals and whales. Journal of Animal Ecology 56, 115130.
IRICS (2009) The International Research Institute for Climate and Society. NOAA NODC WOA05 Grid-1x1 Annual an O2: dissolved oxygen data. (accessed 26 June).
Lockyer, C. (1981) Growth and energy budgets of large baleen whales from the southern hemisphere. FAO Fisheries Series 5, 379487.
Nixon, M. and Young, J.Z. (2003) The brains and lives of cephalopods. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
O'Dor, R.K. and Wells, M.J. (1987) Energy and nutrient flow. In P.R., Boyle (ed.) Cephalopod life cycles, Volume 2. Comparative reviews. London: Academic Press, pp. 109133.
Reilley, S., Hedley, S., Borberg, J., Hewitt, R., Thiele, D., Watkins, J. and Naganobu, M. (2004) Biomass and energy transfer to baleen whales in the South Atlantic sector of the Southern Ocean. Deep-Sea Research II 51, 1397.
Rodhouse, P.G. and Clarke, M.R. (1985) Growth and distribution of young Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni Robson (Mollusca: Cephalopoda): an Antarctic squid. Vie et Milieu 35, 223230.
Roper, C.F.E., Sweeney, M.J. and Nauen, C.E. (1984) Cephalopods of the World. Volume 3. FAO Fisheries Synopsis 125, 277 pp.
Rosa, R. and Seibel, B.A. (2008) Synergistic effects of climate-related variables suggest future physiological impairment in a top oceanic predator. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 105, 2077620780.
Rosa, R. and Seibel, B.A. (in press) Metabolic physiology of the Humboldt squid, Dosidicus gigas: implications for vertical migration in a pronounced oxygen minimum zone. Progress in Oceanography.
Rosa, R., Trueblood, L. and Seibel, B.A. (2009) Ecophysiological influence on scaling of aerobic and anaerobic metabolism of pelagic gonatid squids. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology 82, 419429.
Rosas-Luis, R., Salinas-Zavala, C.A., Koch, V., Del Monte Lunac, P. and Morales-Záratea, M.V. (2008) Importance of jumbo squid Dosidicus gigas (Orbigny, 1835) in the pelagic ecosystem of the central Gulf of California. Ecological Modelling 218, 149161.
Seibel, B.A. (2007) On the depth and scale of metabolic rate variation: scaling of oxygen consumption rates and enzymatic activity in the Class Cephalopoda (Mollusca). Journal of Experimental Biology 210, 111.
Seibel, B.A., Thuesen, E.V. and Childress, J.J. (2000) Light-limitation on predator–prey interactions: consequences for metabolism and locomotion of deep-sea cephalopods. Biological Bulletin. Marine Biological Laboratory. Woods Hole 198, 284298.
Seibel, B.A., Thuesen, E.V., Childress, J.J. and Gorodezky, L.A. (1997) Decline in pelagic cephalopod metabolism with habitat depth reflects differences in locomotory efficiency. Biological Bulletin. Marine Biological Laboratory. Woods Hole 192, 262278.
Sigurjónsson, J. and Víkingsson, G.A. (1997) Seasonal abundance of and estimated food consumption by cetaceans in Icelandic and adjacent waters. Journal of Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Science 22, 271287.
Tamura, T. and Konishi, K. (2009) Feeding habits and prey consumption of Antarctic minke whale (Balaenoptera bonaerensis) in the Southern Ocean. Journal of Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Science 42, 1325.
Vanella, F.A., Calvo, J., Morriconi, E.R. and Aureliano, D.R. (2005) Somatic energy content and histological analysis of the gonads in Antarctic fish from the Scotia Arc. Scientia Marina 69, 305316.
Voss, N., Stephen, S.J. and Dong, Z. (1992) Family Cranchiidae. Smithsonian Contributions to Zoology 513, 187210.
Xavier, J.C., Rodhouse, P.G., Purves, M.G., Daw, T.M., Arata, J. and Pilling, G.M. (2002) Distribution of cephalopods recorded in the diet of the Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides) around South Georgia. Polar Biology 25, 323330.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom
  • ISSN: 0025-3154
  • EISSN: 1469-7769
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-the-marine-biological-association-of-the-united-kingdom
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 9
Total number of PDF views: 60 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 1164 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 22nd March 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.