Firefly squid

This is a beautiful little animal with a brief and brilliant life.


Watasenia scintillans is a small (mantle length,~6 cm; wet weight,~9 g), luminescent deep-sea squid, indigenous to northern Japan. Females carrying fertilized eggs come inshore each spring by the hundreds of millions, even a billion, to lay eggs in Toyama Bay (max. depth, 1200 m) and die, thereupon completing a 1-year life cycle.

Watasenia possesses numerous (~800), minute dermal light organs (photophores) on its ventral side. Other organs are scattered over the head, funnel, mantle, and arms, but none is found on its dorsal side. There are five prominent organs beneath the lower margin of each eye. They all emit a bluish light. A cluster of three tiny black-colored organs (<l mm diam) is located at the tip of each of the fourth pair of arms. They emit brilliant flashes of light which are clearly visible to the unaided eye even in a lighted room. Some of the flashes have a cadence resembling that of a terrestrial firefly flashing at night, and thus the squid is known in Japan as the "firefly squid" or "hotaru-ika."

A billion die every year as a natural part of their lifecycle; all those glittering little creatures dying profligately—Nature is both exuberant and pitiless, it seems.

Tsuji FI (2005) Role of molecular oxygen in the bioluminescence of the firefly squid, Watasenia scintillans. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 338(1):250-253.

More like this

In the deep dark sea, bioluminescence is the name of game. Its central role is unequivocal for many organisms. Do different sexes of species display dimorphism with respect to bioluminescence? Does it have a role in the dirty deeds that occur in the dark? The following is an illuminating dirty…
Some species of cephalopods are incapable of concealing their sexual history. The males produce packets of sperm called spermatangia that they grasp with a specialized arm that they then reach out and splat, poke into their mate. In Octopoteuthis deletron, a deep-sea squid, these spermatangia are…
The film captured the squid, Taningia danae, in action: 1 The squid swims towards the bait; 2 It spreads its arms wide; 3 It swims around the bait, twisting its body; 4 It grabs the bait with its eight arms. The last few days have been hell! My happy Intel Mac is sick and I have been computerless…
Since I asked for it, and since so many were promptly forthcoming with a copy, I'd better give you a quick summary. Kubodera et al. have formally published their observations of the eight-armed deep sea squid, Taningia danae, that were in the news last February. There isn't much new information in…

Is there video anywhere?

By Ginger Yellow (not verified) on 12 Jan 2006 #permalink

I can't see the picture (not even in a separate window).

Ah, it seems I have to use FireFox (or at least not IE) for some unexplained reason. Perhaps a FAQ would help with that sort of thing (also no email, URL, login, keyword etc required now) and the new layout will take some getting used to ... except I probably won't be coming past often anyway if I have to load up FF to see the pretty pictures. :-/ It isn't much of a science blog without pictures (whether of critters, phylogenies, graphs, galaxies etc).

I used to live in Toyama and I never went to see the firefly squid. Actually a friend told me that the aquarium where they were displayed practiced cruelty to squid. Apparently they are rather delicate and many die as they are cruelly forced to to emit light for the sadistic delight of tourists. She told me this over a plate of octopus balls.

SEF: I can see the picture (and such a pretty squiddie it is!) just fine in IE. Perhaps it's your computer?

By Stephanie (not verified) on 12 Jan 2006 #permalink

Well it's certainly not simplistically my computer because I can see the images with FireFox. So ZoneAlarm or display settings would have to be interfering rather selectively!

The pic is great as a desktop - unobtrusive, nearly invisible - really draws you in.

As I understand it, the faint lighting on the underside of marine organisms camoflauges them from below at night because they blend in with whatever surface light there is. Thus it's an evolutionary advantage both for hunters and prey.

Why no pictures?