Many a seafarer has observed schools of flying fish suddenly breaking the ocean’s surface and gliding at great speed just above the water for short distances, using their pectoral fins as wings. However, mariners’ reports of flying squid similarly soaring above the waves were generally regarded sceptically. But no longer, with the scientific community increasingly documenting the phenomenon.1,2
So sailors finding squid high-and-dry on their vessel’s deck in the morning (as many do) can now more boldly say how they likely got there: many species of squid can, and do, fly.
Flight distances of 10–15 metres (33–50′) by schools of hundreds of squid have been observed, flying at heights of up to three metres (10′) above the sea surface. However, individual flights have been reported as long as 55 metres (180′), and as much as six metres (20′) above the water.3 Most flight observations are of squid of around 20 cm (8″) length, but larger ones up to 1.2 metres (4′) have also been noted, with horizontal flight distances being about 50 times an individual squid’s body length. During flight, the squid spread out their fins, and also flare their tentacles in a radial pattern, to form wings. (Squid have a membrane between their tentacles similar to the webbing between the toes of a frog.)
While airborne, the squid aren’t simply gliding passively. They actively change their posture (e.g. rapidly ‘flapping’/undulating their lateral fins) depending on their height above the water and the phase of flight.
Researchers have in fact identified four phases of flight: launching, jetting, gliding and diving. Indeed, jetting—much of the flight is actively jet-propelled. The well-known underwater jet propulsion abilities of squid4 serve them well not just in launching themselves from the water, but in further accelerating themselves once airborne. Prior to launch, the squid hyperinflates its mantle with water. Sudden contraction of the mantle then forcibly expels the water out through a directionally-controllable flexible narrow funnel, and they blast themselves from the sea into the air. When the high-pressure jet of water runs out, they glide until ending their flight with a controlled dive into the ocean, first folding their fins and their tentacles back in to minimize impact. Flights are generally about four seconds long.
One study reported flying squid acceleration in air being up to three times greater than in water, with flying speed while under jet propulsion being up to five times faster than when travelling underwater.5,6
Some researchers even suspect that squid don’t just fly to elude predators, but also as a means of using less energy during long-distance travel.7 As Dalhousie University (Canada) marine biologist Ronald O’Dor explained, some species migrate more than 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) to spawn—a journey that would be hugely draining on the squid’s reserves of energy. “I could never explain how they could get this much energy,” O’Dor mused (even allowing for the circumstance where females eat the males during the journey!). “As soon as we thought about the possibility that these things flew, it became plausible that these animals actually use flight as a way of reducing energy cost.” Electronic tagging has shown that squid are travelling the long distance migration routes much faster than anyone thought possible.
Biomimetics8 researchers have now added flying squid to the creatures that are inspiring them to design and develop improved robots/drones. Engineers have lamented that although good progress has been made in separately developing micro-underwater vehicles, and micro-aerial vehicles, “no technologies are available that allow them to both dive and fly, due to dramatic design trade-offs that have to be solved for movement in both air and water and due to the absence of high-power propulsion systems that would allow a transition from underwater to air. In nature, several animals have evolved design solutions that enable them to successfully transition between water and air, and move in both media. Examples include flying fish, flying squid, diving birds and diving insects.”9
‘Evolved?’ Actually, just as the engineers’ own designs come from careful design, so too the flying squid’s multi-modal aquatic/aerial capabilities—the envy of highly intelligent engineers—are the product of intelligent design. Very Intelligent Design. And that Very Intelligent Designer made us, too. We should credit Him accordingly (Psalm 148:1–13).