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Kraken is making headlines, but what is a squid?

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The European or Common Squid is the source of the very tasty seafood starter featuring on menus as calamari.

The European or Common Squid is the source of the very tasty seafood starter featuring on menus as calamari.

The European or Common Squid is the source of the very tasty seafood starter featuring on menus as calamari.

While the Kraken, a species of squid, made news headlines worldwide last week, it did so not because it is a squid.

Squids are related to octopuses and cuttlefishes and the trio can be told apart quite simply: octopuses have eight arms whereas squids and cuttlefishes have ten, eight regular ones and two much longer ones. Furthermore, octopuses are largely bottom dwellers and have roundish bodies; squids and cuttlefishes are swimmers in the open water and have longer, more streamlined bodies to suit their mode of movement.

Squids are more active swimmers and have longer, more torpedo-shaped bodies. Cuttlefishes are not designed for fast swimming and have thicker, chunkier bodies. The best way to tell them apart is by the shape of the pupils in their eyes; squids have round pupils whereas cuttlefishes have pupils shaped like a capital letter W. Octopuses have rectangular pupils.

There are several species of squid; the best known being the European or Common Squid, eaten as ‘calamari’, Italian for squid. The rarest squid is the Kraken, a large and mysterious creature that lives hidden deep down in the cold and dark waters of the oceans of the world. Very little is known about it but myths and superstitions abound.

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‘Kraken’ is a word from Scandinavian mythology meaning sea monster. Folklore is rich in stories of the Kraken ascending from the deep and grabbing unsuspecting seafarers from passing vessels. In less enlighten times, the legendary Kraken was a popular ‘explanation’ in seafaring superstition for vessels getting lost at sea.

From what little is known scientifically about the Kraken, it is believed that it probably occurs in most of the oceans of the world at depths of 300–1,000 metres, that its body can be 12–13m long, and that it feeds on fish and other squids. Some deep-diving whales are known to hunt and eat Kraken.

Individual young Kraken measuring 5-6m long are very infrequently caught by fishers while trawling on the Porcupine Bank off the west coast of Ireland.

So, why did Kraken make news headlines worldwide last week? It did so because Kraken is the unofficial or street name being used for the XBB.1.5 virus that is currently sweeping around the globe, the latest COVID-19 bug, a sub-variant of Omicron.​


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