Colossal squid: Lurking while we prepare the display

Colossal squid: Lurking while we prepare the display

The squid has been stitched as much as we can – Steve describes it as trying to sew two blocks of butter together. As we re-fill the tank with the glycol mixture we are placing bags filled with water to spread the mantle out and give it some support.

copyright Te Papa
Digitally reconstructed head (cropped) – 3262 © Copyright Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, 2008

Being able to view the specimen head on gives us an idea of what meeting one of these guys would be like!

And at the centre of those tentacles is the beak . . . .

copyright Te Papa
Digitally reconstructed head – 3262 © Copyright Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, 2008
Copyright Te papa
Digitally reconstructed head (detail) – 3262 – © Copyright Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, 2008

The pale vertical stripe at the outer edge of the eye is a light organ – all the better to see you with!

The light organ is at the rear edge of the eye. It would be concealed by skin as the eyeball revolved when the squid was looking out sideways (thus hiding the light from predators or prey). As the eyes turn inward to focus directly in front of the arms and tentacles, the light organs would be exposed and provide enough light for the squid to see its prey in the darkness. Then using binocular vision it would be able to accurately judge the distance the tentacles need to move to strike and seize any hapless toothfish in range!


Optic nerve. Copyright Te Papa
© Copyright Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, 2008

In the image above the eye looks forward (to the left of the image). At the rear of the 27 cm diameter eyeball is a massive nerve leading to the rear of the cranium – concealed by the leading edge of the mantle.


  1. Hi Christina
    Thank you so much for sharing that information with us – it is really interesting to hear.

    If you would like to tell me more about this I would love to hear from you. You can contact me by email on:

    Best wishes

  2. I grew up on the coast of Raukawa moana and saw the feke’s(giant Squids)often we were not allowed to speak of them to outsiders ever. A lot of times we would smell them first I would tell my Dad if I saw or smelt one and he would get a group of the boys to go and bury them.When the Whales came and beached them selves I’ve never forgotten having them cut up on my bon fire.My Dad did’nt like leaving them to the Piharau or blind eels they would strip them in no time.

  3. The squid model at Portobello has the eyes on the side. I think in the specimen it was based the eyes were too damaged, so placement was a best guess based on other species.

  4. Hi all

    This whole thing has been totally amazing. Can you please tell me when it will be on the Discovery Channel? I think I read in the paper it was late August but I can’t find it in the Skywatch magazine.

  5. Amazing – can’t wait to to see her all inflated and on display. She is awesome and huge dead, i dont want to imagine coming across her live whilst swimming/diving in the Medietterean like others i came across – you really feel like you’re in their terrority and get away with
    respect in great haste and back to own environment!!

    Good Work All & well done, neat photos

  6. Hi Thomas and Lee
    We are planning to have the squid on display later in the year, around December.

    It takes a while to get everything developed and organised for an exhibition like this and we are going to be really busy over the next couple of months.

    So sorry Thomas – you won’t be able to see it in early October, but I hope you can get to Wellington to see the colossal squid another time.

  7. Very cool, the eyes are really interesting, helps to have explanations. Do you know when it will be on display.We are comming to Wngt early Oct & would love to see it

  8. Here’s a link to a webpage which describes the larvae of some closely related cranchid squids (seriously weird squids)and shows the structure of the eye – the nerve running from the rear of the eye in the bottom image above is the optic nerve.

    (Young, Richard E. and Mangold (1922-2003), Katharina M. 2008. Taonius Steenstrup, 1861. Version 15 July 2008 (under construction). in The Tree of Life Web Project,

  9. Great close up pictures! Those eyes are absolutely amazing! In the model they have at Jean’s aquarium are the eyes binocular or lateral? Had anyone ever seen one of them in good enough condition to know how they should be when they constructed the model?

  10. ps have you got a date planned for when it will go go on display?

  11. Amazing, those eyes are down right spooky! the light organ is fascinating too (Pamela would you be thinking of the Ood?) Binocular vision, quite the innovation!


  12. Does it smell? also, would love to buy a piccie (2nd one down) Any chance of going to tepapa to buy a print also getting it signed by Chris and Steve would be much appreciated.

  13. They are such great pictures, totally awesome – it looks just like something I saw on “Dr Who” a couple of weeks ago… (only better).

  14. The forward facing eyes suggest these squid have good stereoscopic or binocular vision, and presumably the light organs on the eyeball provide it with enough light to see its prey – just before it uses the elongate tentacles to snap up the victim! We’re not sure if the colossal nerve at the back of the eye is associated with the muscles required to move the eyeball around or if it is the optic nerve. We’ll have to check with our vision experts Dr Warrant & Dr Nilssen. We’ll update the post as soon as we find out!

    The giant squid has eyes on the side of the head which are directed laterally or sideways, not forward – so they do not have as good stereoscopic vision. With stereoscopic vision the colossal squid would be able to calculate distances and is probably much more of an active predator than the giant squid!

  15. “lucyryan Says:
    Thanks for the great pics Te Papa, it really helps bring the squid to life.”

    It’s coming back to life??! Run while you still can!!

    Seriously though, I’m with you Lucy, thanks Te Papa!


  16. Wow – what great pictures – totally different sort of ‘face’ than I ever imagined.

    I guess I’d never thought of the eyes looking forward – more imagined they’d be on looking outwards on on each side of their head.

    Thanks for the great pics Te Papa, it really heps bring the squid to life.


  17. Steve’s description is great, I thought it felt like kelp – also love the photo, she is almost adorable! No, scrub that, she IS adorable!

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