Wondernose: What animal is able to send out a decoy in order to distract an enemy?

by Rebecca Martin | Jun 1, 2024 | 0 comments

When you think of a decoy, perhaps you picture a wooden or plastic duck placed in the water by a hunter in hopes of attracting real ducks. Well, the principle of our mystery animal’s decoy is somewhat different, as it hopes to repel rather than attract. What it does is blow out a cloud of ink that’s basically the same size as its own body. The confused predator will then hopefully try to catch the blob of ink—while the real animal quickly scuttles away, being somewhat hidden from view by the ink clouding the water.

So now you’ve caught on that this is a marine animal. It is a mollusk; it has a soft body with no bones. Neither does it have legs. But there are lots of arms—ten of them—and they all grow in a circle around the head. Or perhaps it would be more correct to say that there are eight arms and two tentacles, these last ones being considerably longer. Both arms and tentacles have rows of round, sucking disks which help to catch and hold prey.

No, this is not an octopus, Wondernose, though you are getting close. Our mystery animal is tube-shaped with two fins at the tail end. Mostly these creatures are not very big, under 1 foot (30 cm) long. But there are a few giant species that measure over 40 feet (12 m) if you include the length of the arms. These big ones live in the ocean depths and are rarely seen alive. Dead specimens are sometimes cast up on beaches, so we know they exist.

Yes, we are talking about those remarkable creatures called squid. When I say “remarkable,” I’m thinking of their way of getting around. They move by jet propulsion! After filling the folds of its body with water, the squid will force the water out through a muscular tube lying beneath the head. This forcing action is what gives the squid locomotion. It can move pretty fast, either backward or forward. Not for nothing is this called “jet” propulsion.

Maybe you hadn’t thought of it this way, but jet propulsion requires good nerves. Nerves, as you know, are the body’s “messenger system,” meaning the nerves let the muscles know what they’re supposed to do. The interesting thing about a squid’s nerve fibers is that they are very thick compared to those of other animals. Their thickness enables them to send extremely fast impulses to the muscles.

Another thing squid can do very rapidly is change color. In the blink of an eye, they will suddenly turn another color that matches their surroundings. Do you have any idea how they do this, Wondernose? Their skin contains various colors of chromatophores, and by expanding or contracting the skin, different colored patterns are produced. Sounds complicated, doesn’t it? Again, swift nerve impulses aid in this color-changing feat.

Jet propulsion, suckered tentacles, camouflage colors, ink decoy—you might think this animal’s amazing faculties would stop there. But I’m going to mention one more thing. Many squids carry their own lights! And these bioluminescent light organs come in a variety of patterns. One little squid has a circle of lights around the eyes. Others have them scattered all over the body. In the Mediterranean Sea there’s a longer squid that carries scores of lights along the length of its body!

squid underwater
Squid. Photo © Marcin Ciesielski|Dreamstime.com.

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