A big squid comes ashore

Sailors once told tales about huge sea creatures which they called monsters. Movie producers still make films about them. A kind of "sea monster" washed ashore recently on Plum Island, Mass. Park rangers there found a big white blob on their beach, which turned out to be a giant squid. Giant squids look a little like octopuses, but they have two more arms and different bodies. The one on Plum Island was so big, it took 10 men to carry it away.

Many people call giant squids monsters because of their size and long, twisting arms. In the movie "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" the arms of a giant squid grabbed Captain Nemo's submarine. In real life, the arms can grow to lengths of 20 feet or more.

People who study giant squids don't like to hear them called monsters. Dr. Clyde Roper, a squid expert from the Smithsonian Institution, says they aren't monsters at all, "they just happen to be large."

Giant squids are very large. The biggest one ever found (in a whale's stomach!) was 65 feet long. The one on Plum Island had a body 7 feet long, shaped like an ice-cream cone. Growing out of the cone were eight arms and two tentacles, which were 15 feet long.

Squids use tentacles like hands to grab fish as food. The eight arms hold the food while the squid eats away. To bite, squids use a beak like a parrot's.

When a squid wants to move, it has two choices. To go forward, it uses fins like other fish. Moving backward is trickier. The squid takes a big gulp of water and spits it out very quickly. This pushes the creature backward like an untied balloon flying through the air.

Even though they are huge, giant squids need to protect themselves. When frightened, they squirt dark ink at their attackers to blind them. If squids are the largest animals without a backbone in the world, what could possibly attack them? The answer is sperm whales, which are even bigger. These whales can swallow giant squids in one gulp.

Many people like to eat squid, too, in smaller bites of course. Small squids are a delicacy. Giant squids would be happy to know that humans don't find them as tasty. Who wants to try to catch a sea monster, anyway?

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