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Loligo opalescens - California market squid

Geographic range:
Alaska to Baja California, Mexico

Key features:
Usually white body color, eight arms and two tentacles.

Similar species:

bay (rocky shore), bay (sandy shore), Continental shelf, continental slope, kelp forest, pelagic zone
Loligo opalescens - California market squid image


Primary common name:
California Market Squid
  ITIS code:
Synonymous name(s):
General grouping:
Squid and octopus

Geographic Range
Range description:
Loligo opalescens occurs throughout the Pacific ocean.
Northern latitude extent:
  Southern latitude extent:
East longitude extent:
  West longitude extent:

Intertidal Height
Lowest intertidal height:
0 meters OR 0 feet
  Highest intertidal height:
0 meters OR 0 feet
Intertidal height notes:

Subtidal Depth Range
Minimum depth:
0 meters OR 0 feet
  Maximum depth:
250 meters OR 0 feet
Subtidal depth notes:

bay (rocky shore), bay (sandy shore), Continental shelf, continental slope, kelp forest, pelagic zone
Habitat notes:
Loligo opalescens occupies the ocean waters from surface to bottom and can also be found in coastal waters. They spawn and deposit their eggs on shallow mud flats and the sandy seafloor.

Relative abundance:
Loligo opalescens is probably the most abundant cephalopod along the central coast of California.

Species Description
General description:
Loligo opalescens is a seasonal resident to California and during summer months, it returns to Monterey Bay in huge numbers to copulate, deposit egg capsules on the seafloor and then die.
Distinctive features:
Loligo opalescens has a cylindrical body that is tapered toward the rear. Their color can range from whitish to mottled gold, brown or red, this color is changeable, however. This squid has two large eyes and eight arms that are one half their body length. They have a triangular fin on each side at their rear.
Loligo opalescens can grow to a total length of 28 cm.

Natural History
General natural history:
Loligo opalescens belongs to the class Cephalopoda along with other squid, octopuses, cuttlefish, and the chambered nautilus.

Squid are the fastest swimmers among marine invertebrates. When swimming slowly they use only fin thrust, like most fish. But in order to move fast, they use jet propulsion, which involves contracting a belt of muscles to squirt water from their mantle cavity through funnel. Using jet population they can reach a speed of 8 body lengths per second and in contrast to most fish, squid can readily swim either forward or backward. Squid only have to rotate their funnel 180 degrees in order to change direction.

Like other cephalopods, Loligo opalescens can exhibit dramatic color changes. This is due to the presence of tens of thousands of chromatophores all over the body that create rapid, rippling flashes of red, brown, orange and yellow. These color changes are under neural control and appear to be related to activities such as feeding, mating and communication versus the need for camouflage.

Loligo opalescens has an impressively complex eye, containing a cornea, iris, lens and retina, all components of a vertebrate eye. Cephalopods, like Loligo opalescens, also have a complex nervous system. They have half a billion nerve cells, one third of them in the brain, which is more than any other invertebrate and even more than many fishes and most reptiles. It is believed that this exceptional vision and complex brain allow cephalopods to have uncommon intelligence. For example, octopus, which are in the Cephalopod class, have been conditioned to respond to geometric patterns, learned to initiate the behavior of others and showed to have excellent long term memory.

Loligo opalescens contains ink, and may escape danger from predators by releasing an ink cloud that is both dark and distasteful. This cloud can confuse and blind predators.
Loligo opalescens has many predators, including seabirds, marine mammals and fish. In particular, shearwaters, Puffinus sp., gulls, Larus sp., sea lions, Zalophus californianus, harbor seals, Phoca vitulina, blue sharks, <.em>, salmon, , mackerel, and bonito, . These predators will feast on the squid when they are alive, or when the squids lay dead after the exhaustion of spawning. Giant sunflower seastars, Pycnopodia helianthoides, will also feed on dead or dying squid.

Humans also prey heavily on this squid. Loligo opalescens is fished with purse seines in Monterey Bay and in recent years this has been Monterey Bay's largest fishery. When the squid form huge mating aggregations, the fishermen put their nets in the water. One to 20 tons can be taken in one haul in less than one hour.
Loligo opalescens feeds on polychaetes, crustaceans, small fishes and even occasionally on each other.

Feeding behavior
Feeding behavior(s):
Feeding behavior notes:
To catch fish, Loligo opalescens will abrupty seize it with its tentacles, embrace it, and then bites the back of the head, tearing the spinal cord. Loligo opalescens then discards the head and spinal cord, while devouring the rest of the fish.
June - August  
Thousands of Loligo opalescens will gather in shallow waters to mate seasonally. This occurs primarily during summer months and at an age of two to three years and almost always takes place in the hours before midnight. During spawning, the female extrudes eggs from her oviduct, which gather into masses of 180 to 300 eggs. These bundles are then given several coatings of jelly and allowed to harden into spindle-shaped sheathed capsules. As the female is forming her egg capsules, the male will grasp her and using a specialized arm, he will thrust several sperm packets into her mantle cavity. When the female deposits her egg capsules on the sand, the male will release her and both squid will swim away, possibly going off to mate with others.

Spawning females are attracted to already present egg capsules and eventually mounds of capsules, up to one and a half meters, will cover the seafloor. This crazed spawning event has a huge energetic cost for both male and female squid and thus, they will not survive for long after. Many squid are mutilated as grasping suckers have stripped off their skin. Exhaustion has led to loss of motion and chromatophore control. As a result, many darken in color and swim erratically or bob at the surface.

Juvenile squid will hatch from the capsules after three to five weeks of embryonic development, forgoing a larval stage. It is unclear where they go at this time, but it is known that they will return to the same place to spawn two to three years later.
Alden, P., F. Heath, R. Keen, A. Leventer, and W. Zomlefer. 2002. National Audubon Society Field Guide to California. A.A. Knopf, New York, NY.

Community Mapping Network

Fields, W.G. 1965. The structure, development, food relations, reproduction, and life history of the squid Loligo opalescens Berry. California Department of Fish and Game Fish Bulletin 131.

Langstroth, L. and L. Langstroth. 2000. A Living Bay: The Underwater World of Monterey Bay. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA. 287 p.

O\'dor, R.K. 1988. The forces acting on swimming squid. Journal of Experimental Biology 137: 421-442.

Monterey Bay Aquarium. Online Field Guide, 2008.
Accessed [04/27/06]
Accessed 01/30/2009 for Pelagic Cormorant
Accessed 8/19/09 for Bryozoan
Accessed 7/31/09 for Spiny brittle star
Accessed 3/31/09 for Sunflower star
Accessed 8/9/09 for red octopus
Accessed 8/19/09 for Decorator crab
Accessed 7/31/09 for warty sea cucumber

Data supplied by SIMoN Sanctuary Integrated Monitoring Network
Anthopleura xanthogrammica - Giant green anemone

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