Nature Blows My Mind! The bobtail squid and its amazing invisibility cloak



This mind-blowing squid makes a home for bioluminescent bacteria inside its body, using the glowing bacteria as camouflage against predators at night in a brilliant symbiotic relationship.

Bobtail Squid Photo By Nick Hobgood

The bobtail squid is a tiny creature (only about two inches long) that can be found in shallow coastal waters of the Pacific Ocean, some parts of the Indian Ocean, and on the west coast of the Cape Peninsula off South Africa. Hidden in the sand by day, it comes out at night to hunt. To avoid detection by predators from below, it harbors glowing bacteria on its underbelly to mimic the moonlight and essentially eliminate its shadow.

Bobtail Squid Photo By Hans Hillewaert

The bacteria are housed in a special light organ in the squid’s mantle, where the squid provides food in the form of sugar and amino acid solution. The squid uses filters in this organ to adjust the brightness of the bacteria to match that of the moon, essentially using the light as an invisibility cloak or, as one researcher put it, a Klingon cloaking device.

Bobtail Squid Photo By Nick Hobgood

The way that the bobtail squid and bacteria interact to activate the glowing is called quorum sensing. If we can figure out just how it works and use it ourselves, we might be able to come up with better ways to fight illnesses or perhaps even new camouflage techniques. Bobtail squid have even been part of experiments in space to help figure out ways to keep astronauts healthy.

Here is a great little video explaining a little more about quorum sensing and the amazingness that is the bobtail squid:

Just how does this cunning little nocturnal hunter stop itself from being spotted by it’s food? Or by fish looking for an easy meal? And what on earth has that got to do with nasty bacteria? Find out in the short animation sponsored by the UK Society for Applied Microbiology.

And here is another informative video about researchers studying this fantastic creature:

The Hawaiian bobtail squid and its resident bacterium, Vibrio fischeri, have a powerful and still somewhat mysterious symbiotic relationship. The luminescent bacteria populate a small pouch on the squid’s underside called the light organ, and provide a sort of “Klingon cloaking device.” They produce light at night to offset the squid’s shadow and hide it from predators when it approaches the ocean’s surface to feed. With support from the National Science Foundation, University of Wisconsin-Madison microbiologist Margaret McFall-Ngai studies this unusual relationship, including how the squid and bacteria communicate in a way that keeps them from harming each other. An understanding of these creatures’ rhythms could lead to new ways to treat disease.

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December 21, 2016 |

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