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Huge Squids 'Flash' One Another to Communicate

Jan 23, 2015 05:03 PM EST

In an amazing revelation, researchers have obtained footage of massive six-foot-long squids flashing and flickering at one another in the ocean depths. This never-before-seen behavior was closely analyzed by experts, and they have determined that while the flickering is likely a complex form of camouflage, the differently timed flashes seem to be a way of communicating.

That's at least according to a study recently published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, which details how researchers from Stanford University and the National Geographic Society strapped small cameras on three person-sized Humboldt squids (Dosidicus gigas) to catch a glimpse of their everyday lives.

"This is pretty much the first study of its kind," Hannah Rosen, the study's co-author, recently told The Verge. "Nobody had ever attached cameras onto free-swimming squid before."

The unique footage these researchers obtained show that these squids use changes in pigmentation to achieve their flickers and flashes, alternating between dark and light colorations.

Of course, researchers familiar with Humboldt squids already knew this was possible. Anatomy studies of squids and other invertebrates like the amazing cuttlefish have shown that they can express various colors and patterns across their skin by contracting chromatophorse - pigment cells in their skin that are linked to the animal's central nervous system.

In high stress situations, experts have observed their nervous systems "light up," simultaneously causing the squids to flicker. However, it had long been a mystery as to why exactly this is set up this way.

In observing her footage, however, Rosen quickly found that even wild squids perform this flickering - which resembles what happens when light reflects at the bottom of the pool. This led her and her colleague to suspect that the flickering is a means of camouflage.

However, when one of the three cam-toting Humboldts ran into another squid, they started up a different and slower coloration flash. Since this was only displayed in social situations, the researchers suspect it is used for communication.

This, Rosen says, is an excellent example of how much more intelligent squids are than the average person might think, although that shouldn't stop you from enjoying a nice bowl of calamari from time-to-time.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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