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Rossia pacifica, Stubby squid

<< Cephalopod Species | By Roland C. Anderson

The Stubby squid, Rossia pacifica, is a member of the sepiolid family of cephalopods. Although sepiolids are commonly called squid, they are not true squid. They look like a Rossia pacificacombination between octopus and squid but are actually more closely related to cuttlefish. Like cuttlefish, they can bury themselves in the sand. Like octopuses, they mostly live on the bottom rather than swimming in the water. They have eight suckered arms and two long tentacles like squid, but don't have a quill or cuttlebone for internal body support. They swim by using the fins on either side of their body or use jet propulsion by taking water into their body cavity and squirting it out a funnel.

Stubby squid (or bobtail squid) live from the lower intertidal region down to 300 m deep around the perimeter of the North Pacific from Japan to Southern California. In Puget Sound scuba divers can see stubby squids at night in the winter. They're found on moderately sloping bottoms consisting of muddy sand in places protected from strong tidal currents. These places usually have access to deeper depths because the squid go deeper in the summer.

At night they sit out on the bottom. They are usually transfixed by a diver's bright light, much like a frog in a pond or a deer transfixed in the road by an auto's lights. During the day they bury themselves in sand or mud, with just their eyes peering out for danger. They dig by blowing jets of water with their funnel to create a depression in the sand. Then they sit in the depression and gather 'handfuls' of sand with two opposing arms and throw it back over their heads onto their bodies to complete their self-burial.

When divers stir them up from their daytime rest the squid will jet away, leaving a blob of ink in its place. The ink is thick and black (most octopus ink is brown) and the blob usually resembles a squid body. Sometimes a diver just sees the ink blob and knows a squid is somewhere in the area.

Rossia pacifica eggs
Photograph of Rossia pacifica eggs taken by Annette GE Smith. She has observed eggs at the end of Ann Coleman Road in Juneau, Alaska at depths of 90 feet and deeper. Annette reports that the eggs are tough and take about a year to hatch.
At maturity, they are about six cm long. Both male and female die after mating (there is no such thing as 'safe sex' for these animals!). The female lays 25-50 eggs about a cm in diameter on clam shells, sponge masses or the underside of over-hanging rocks, then she dies. The eggs hatch in four to nine months. The egg capsules have to be tough and durable to protect the embryos for so long; empty egg capsules have been kept in running water for another six months with no apparent decay. The eggs receive no parental care. Juveniles hatch out as miniature adults and soon begin feeding on small crustaceans. They live only two years from egg to spawning adult. Adults mostly eat live shrimp they catch with their two long tentacles. They eat with a horny beak inside their mouths, located underneath the body at the center of the arms. They mostly eat the same parts of the shrimp as we do; they hold the shrimp with their arms and eat out the tail and some of the inner organs, dropping the head. One surprising thing recently learned about stubby squid is that they are found in polluted urban bays with highly polluted bottom sediments, such as the inner harbors of Seattle and Tacoma (Washington State, USA). There may be several reasons they can survive there. Deposition from rivers maybe capping polluted sediments. Their short life spans (just two years from eggs) may not allow them to absorb a significant amount of pollutants from the sediments. Another survival factor may be the stubby squid's ability to produce copious quantities of mucus, which may protect it from the sediments like a thick Jello jacket.

The stubby squid does well in aquariums, provided they are kept cold (8-10°C) and are fed small live shrimp. The Seattle Aquarium has kept them continuously on display for more than 10 years. Visitors to the Aquarium frequently call them 'cute.' The Aquarium believes it is the only one in the world to show these intriguing animals that combine the mystery and alien-ness of octopuses with the whimsy of cuttlefish.

References and Credits


Anderson, R.C. 1987a. Cephalopods at the Seattle Aquarium. Intl. Zoo Yrbk. 26:41-48.
Anderson, R.C. 1987b. Field aspects of the sepiolid squid Rossia pacifica (Berry, 1911). West. Soc. Malac. Ann. Rep. 20:30-32.
Anderson, R.C. 1991. Aquarium husbandry of the sepiolid squid Rossia pacifica. AAZPA Ann. Conf. Proc. 1991. 206-211.
Anderson, R.C. and J.E. Vanderwerff. 1989. In pursuit of the suburban squid. Sea Frontiers. 35(3): 165-169.
Anderson, R.C. and R.L. Shimek. 1994. Field observations of Rossia pacifica (Berry, 1911) egg masses. Veliger. 37(1):117-119
Arkhipkin, A.I. 1995. Statolith microstructure and maximum age of the sepiolid Rossia pacifica (Cephalopoda: Sepioidea) in the northern part of the North Pacific. Sarsia. 80(3):237-240.
Brocco, S.L. 1971. Aspects of the biology of the sepiolid squid Rossia pacifica Berry. M.S. Thesis, Univ. Victoria, B.C. 151pp.
Shimek, R.L. 1983. Escape behavior of Rossia pacifica Berry, 1911. Abstract. Amer. Malac. Bull. 2:91-92.v Summers, W.C. 1985. Ecological implications of life stage timing determined from the cultivation of Rossia pacifica (Mollusca: cephalopoda). Vie et Milieu. 35:249-254.
Summers, W.C. and L.J. Colvin. 1989. On the cultivation of Rossia pacifica (Berry, 1911). J. Ceph. Biol. 1(1):21-31.


The text for this page was written by Roland C. Anderson, a biologist at The Seattle Aquarium. The above image is also courtesy of The Seattle Aquarium.

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