Giant squids and screen presence

For decades, scientists and sea explorers have sought to hunt down and photograph the giant squid — a legendary monster of the deep with eyes the size of soccer balls and long tentacles lined with sucker pads.

Dead specimens had been caught in nets or washed up on shore, but they revealed few of the species’ behavioural secrets. Now, an expedition off Japan has captured video images of lively, iridescent giant squid moving in their deep lair.

The video success appears to be a first; previous expeditions succeeded in capturing only still images of the animal in its habitat.

The expedition located giant squid six times by dangling glowing lures that mimicked the luminescence of a favourite food — deep-sea jellyfish. “The giant squid has the biggest eyes of any animal on the planet,” said a member of the expedition, Edith Widder, president of the Ocean Research and Conservation Association, in Fort Pierce, Fla.

“It’s a visual predator. So we took advantage of that and used an optical lure.” She said all the specimens were of Architeuthis, the genus name for the giant squid.

The expedition sailed in June and July. In an interview, Widder said the expedition’s success suggested that bioluminescent mimicry offered a powerful new tool in searching for abyssal life.
“We’ve been scaring stuff away,” she said.

“Now we have new tools for exploring the deep and have to pull together a deep exploration programme that takes advantage of them.”

William J Broad
New York Times News Service

Wet wrinkled fingers for better grip

The prunelike wrinkles that result from a long, hot bath may have an evolutionary purpose, researchers say.

Writing in the journal Biology Letters, the scientists report that wrinkled fingers and toes allow a better grip on wet objects, so they may have evolved to give early humans an advantage in wet conditions.

“People are about 12 per cent quicker” at moving wet objects, said an author of the study, Tom Smulders, an evolutionary biologist at Newcastle University in England, “if their fingers are wrinkled than if their fingers are non-wrinkled.” He and his colleagues tested how quickly wrinkled and unwrinkled fingers could move wet and dry marbles. All the participants in the study were able to transfer dry marbles faster than wet marbles, but wrinkly fingers helped with the wet ones. “It’s not just our fingers that do it, but our toes do it as well,” Smulders said. “The actual origin of this may have been to help us move on all fours.”

Wrinkly fingers could also have helped with gathering food from wet vegetation or streams. Why, then, are finger pads not permanently wrinkled? That remains to be studied, Smulders said, but “it may be that wrinkled fingers are more easily injured, or they may affect the sense of touch.”
Further research with other species that share this feature may also help explain how long ago wrinkly fingers and toes evolved, and for what purpose.

Sindya N Bhanoo
New York Times News Service