How Big Is A Colossal Squid Really?


Recently, Quarks to Quasar’s on Facebook published an illustration (above) of how massive a Colossal Squid can reach.  The Facebook post was liked by 3,300 people and shared 1,150 times (they have 351k followers).  I am excited that the Colossal Squid is loved by this many people. One problem. The illustration is wrong.  Really wrong.  Although the Colossal Squid can reach, well, colossal proportions, the length of this big squid is grossly exaggerated in the above illustration.

Steve O’Shea one of the world’s leading experts on Big Ass Squids has this to say,

On April 1, 2003 the popular press was first alerted to the Colossal Squid, a.k.a. Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni, although this species has been known to the scientific community since 1925, after it was described from two arm (brachial) crowns recovered from sperm whale stomachs (Robson 1925). We have located 11 further reports in which adult and subadult specimens have been described, and are aware of at least 7 further, similarly sized specimens that have yet to be reported. Juveniles of this species are not uncommon from surface waters to ~1000m depth….This species attains the greatest weight, but not necessarily greatest length of all squid species, and is known to attain a mantle length of at least 2.5m.

A newer specimen caught since Steve wrote the above is the Te Papa Museum Museum tank specimen that I’ve seen in person. It measures in at an actual total length of 5.4 meters (17.7 feet).

So more realistic would be


No doubt you have also seen the Amazing Ocean Facts circulating around the web. Overall, I love the concept.  Humor, cartoons, ocean creatures, and some science. Yes more please!  However, I have to speak out against both because I take size seriously.

pngIn the above cartoon the Colossal Squid is stated to be twice the length of school bus.  The average length of your standard school bus is around 45 feet long.  So according to this comic a Colossal Squid is 90 feet long. I mentioned in my other post about the sizes of Giant Squids that the longest recorded specimen was 42 feet long, 3 feet shy of a single school bus.  Now here is the kicker.  Giant Squids are longer than Colossal Squids.

Why does this all matter?

Hat tip to Steve Haddock from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute who brought this to my attention. Make sure you check out his page on Facebook Jellywatch.

36 Replies to “How Big Is A Colossal Squid Really?”

  1. The headline is “how big is a colossal squid?” The image caption is “giant squid compared to human.” The text finally says “giant squids are longer than colossal squid.” Colossal squid is not just another word for giant squid?? Talk about burying the lede! And now I really don’t know how big either one is.

  2. You’ve definitely struck on one of the issues. People confuse the two different species. The first illustration (not from our website here) is labelled incorrectly and is supposed to be the colossal squid. I in the post am trying to discuss how big a colossal squid can be. I thought people might be also interested that the colossal squid while heavier (bulkier) than the giant squid is still shorter.

  3. Is nobody concerned that the header illustration looks like a large condom with tentacles (as opposed to testicles) ;)

  4. Well I care about accuracy (and science) and I think your article is cool! Of course women tend to take size seriously – giggle snort :-).

  5. Any word on how large the Colossal Squid beak with a lower rostral length of 49 mm is estimated to be? A while back there was a 4 meter mantle length estimate attached to it (on some very early versions of the Giant and Colossal Squid fact sheet), however, the 2007 specimen had a 41 mm beak and 2.5 meter ML, so it seems likely the huge beak belonged to an individual under a 3 meter ML.

  6. In the Peabody Museum they have a lifesize giant squid model hanging from the ceiling and it definitely conforms to the dimensions cited here, not the bogus diagram.

  7. Sadly this is how science is reported by most commercial news organizations. There is a attention grabbing headline, a lede that gives the incorrect conclusion, finally badly written (or purposely obscured) science behind the lead.

  8. My favorite squid is fried in olive oil. BTW: my limited knowledge of Greek tells
    me that kalamaris roughly translated means “beauty of the sea” to which I can only
    add “yum-yum”.

    Yes, you could go fishing a long time with a squid that size. However it might
    be the squid that catches you!


  9. For the book “The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals” by my friend Karl Shuker I made a depiction of Mesonychoteuthis. I tried to make it as naturalistic as possible, without the bloated baloon head or super-huge eyes seen in some other depictions, but mainly based on the actual proportions of living and dead specimens.

    I made the scale bar to indicate a mantle length of around 2,4 m, to represent the size of the largest really known specimen.

  10. To paraphrase a famous quote: “Is that a squid in your pocket, or are you just
    glad to see me?”

  11. The facts are all great, and size does matter, but I was uncomfortable about seeing Dr. Byron Beekle’s picture of claustrophobic kids being eaten up and tightly, unwillingly stuffed into the guts of the squid. I just don’t want to feel like being one of those kids, especially when something twice the size of a school bus can fit only half the amount of kids on a full school bus, and eats them up. I would rather have the picture have no human prey at all, but have the squid eat non-human animals that are the size of children instead.

  12. Even if it can only hold half as many kids NOW, doesn’t mean it can’t beat the bus with more and more practice! Amirite??

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