- Deep-sea Humboldt squid have been seen exhibiting an interesting behavior in their natural habitat which they “talk” to each other.
- A new paper describes a method of communication between Humboldt's in which they backlight their bodies and overlay a display of colors and patterns against that backlighting in order to send messages to other squid.
- This behavior seems to indicate that squid are capable of putting sentences together in order to communicate with their shoal.
According to new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Humboldt squid (Dosidicus gigas) communicate using a kind of complex—and impressive—process that gives them a voice in the dark abyss of the deep sea.
Animals across several species communicate in various ways and the Humboldt is no different. It doesn't use echolocation, clicks, or whistles to send a message; instead, the Humboldt uses bioluminescence in a really clever way: for backlighting.
Ben Burford, a Stanford University graduate student and lead paper author, told NPR that arrangement of a Humboldt's coloring and bioluminescent is something akin to the formation of sentences—they can say different things depending on what patterns, colors, and backlighting they choose to display.
“So, they could for instance say: ‘hey, that fish over there is mine, and I'm the dominant squid,’” Burford said.
This discovery also means that the purpose is bioluminescence is—at the very least—twofold: squid use them to attract prey and communicate with each other although it seems this flashy ‘talking’ is mostly used during feeding frenzies.
In their paper, Burford and his team share that communication between deep-sea creatures has been hard to study since it's difficult to reach the depths at which they live—Humboldt's live more than 1,000 feet below the ocean's surface.
Using footage obtained via remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), Burford and colleagues analyzed Humboldt movements and behaviors in their natural habitat.
They found that the squid can “visually convey and receive large quantities of information by combining complex pigmentation patterning with whole-body luminescence” especially when foraging “and in social scenarios.” This method of backlighting only certain portions of their bodies is similar to the backlighting on devices such as e-readers or phones.
The researchers note that their data suggests that Humboldt communication “could share design features with advanced forms of animal communication.” It also provides insight about how animals interact and speak with each other “in one of the planet's most challenging environments for visual communication.”
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