What does a carnivorous flying squid eat …

… when it is a baby squidette?

That is not the opening line of a joke. This is very serious. Answer: Detritus.

You might think of the flying squid as a strange and unusual form of squid, but actually, the term refers to an entire family of squids, the Ommastrephidae, which, in turn, includes the squids we eat. There are over 20 species of the Ommastrephidae, including the jumbo flying squid, the luminous flying squid, the neon flying squid, and of course, the lesser flying squid.

If you go to a resturant and get calamari, you will be eating a flying squid.

Squid is one of those animals we are not too picky about, when it comes to nomenclature. Even though there are may species of squid that are trapped and cooked up by humans, nobody seems to differentiate among the different species, or at least, not very often. This is a bit like being served a steak, and when you ask what it is, the answer is, “Mammal.” Or perhaps, “It is a member of the Ungulata. Would you like a side of fries with that?”

(Shrimp is similar, but maybe more so. The things we call shrimp, without too much differentiation other than size, come from multiple suborders).

Here’s the thing, and the reason that the new research I’m telling you about here is interesting. Squid forms some or a large part of the diet of many human groups around the world. But beyond that, squid (Ommastrephidae) forms the basis for the diet of many many species of other things that we eat. They are at the top of their own little food chain, as carnivores, up until they get eaten by a human, fish, or something. Ultimately, a huge part of human diet and economy, and more importantly, of the ecology of the entire oceanic fauna, relies critically on squid.

Yet, until recently, we did not know what the larval squid ate!

From the abstract:

While the diets of adult flying squids have been extensively studied, the first feeding diet of early paralarvae remains a mystery. The morphology of this ontogenetic stage notably differs from other cephalopod paralarvae, suggesting a different feeding strategy. Here, a combination of Laser Capture Microdissection (LCM) and DNA metabarcoding of wild-collected paralarvae gut contents … was applied, covering almost every life domain. The gut contents were mainly composed by fungus, plants, algae and animals of marine and terrestrial origin, as well as eukaryotic and prokaryotic microorganisms commonly found in fecal pellets and particulate organic matter. This assemblage of gut contents is consistent with a diet based on detritus. The ontogenetic shift of diet from detritivore suspension feeding to active predation represents a unique life strategy among cephalopods and allows ommastrephid squids to take advantage of an almost ubiquitous and accessible food resource during their early stages.

Here’s a picture:

(a–f) Morphology of ommastrephid squids. (a) Early paralarva (individual E100) showing an unsplit proboscis. (b) Todarodes sagittatus late paralarva (individual E5) with the proboscis beginning to split. (c) Adult Ommastrephes sp. individual E3 with the two raptorial tentacles. (d) SEM frontal photomicrograph of a Illex coindetii early paralarva obtained by in vitro fertilization (after Fernández-Álvarez et al.,15), showing the buccal papillae around the mouth. (e) Buccal area of a Todarodes sagittatus late paralarva (individual E7). (f) Buccal area of a T. sagittatus subadult. (g) Histogram representing the size classes used in this study, vertical axis represents the number of individuals, the horizontal axis represents the mantle length (mm); red bars represent early paralarvae, while yellow and violet bars represent late paralarvae, and subadults and adults, respectively.

Fernández-Álvarez, Fernando, Annie Machordom, Ricardo García-Jiménez, César A. Salinas-Zavala & Roger Villanueva. 2018. Predatory flying squids are detritivores during their early planktonic life. Scientific Reports volume 8, Article number: 3440 (2018) doi:10.1038/s41598-018-21501-y

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