Scientists have known for quite some time that squid have the capacity for short burst flight, but they've only known this through anecdotal accounts. Until recently, they've never actually been able to properly document the phenomenon, or get a sense as to how the mollusc pulls it off. Now, thanks to Jun Yamamoto of Hokkaido University, not only have the rumors been proven true — scientists have also figured out the mechanics behind squid flight.
Back in July 2011, Yamamoto and his team were tracking a large group of squid (Todarodes pacificus, also known as neon flying squid) about 370 miles (600 km) off the coast of Tokyo. As the boat got nearer, the 8-inch (20 cm) squid propelled themselves from the water where they remained airborne for a distance of 98 feet (30 meters) — and at the breakneck speed of 37 feet per second (11.2 m/s).
According to the researchers, the squid is able to accomplish this by shooting a powerful jet of water out from their funnel-like stems. Once they're out of the water, they glide by spreading out their fins and arms. This configuration creates aerodynamic lift, enabling the squid to keep a stable arc on its flight. Consequently, the researchers say the squid is truly flying, and not just jumping. And indeed, the technique allows the squid to remain airborne for as much as three seconds at a time.
The biologists theorize that it's a defence mechanism to help the squid escape predators (or nosy marine biologists). Interestingly, the squid can only do this when in the reverse position; it's looking behind itself while it does all of this.
The study will be published later this week in Marine Biology.
Images: Kouta Muramatsu, Hokkaido University, AFP.