(Yes, yes, I know that thing ^^ is not a fish. Bear with me).
Lately, I’ve been working on designs for hanging lanterns. These are inspired- in part- by Japanese lanterns (including Zeniba’s warden in ‘Spirited Away’) and also- in large part- by carriage lanterns.
In point of fact- the crest piece is structurally important. Poorly constructed lamps can function like booby traps, just waiting for a soft head upon which to crash. In my design, the light socket extends up through the lamp body and the crest piece. These components form an integral whole.
I had some serious fun wiring the things- three blown fuses, one shattered hi-wattage bulb. (By the way… in case you’re interested in buying one… I did take the final product into an electrician for review).
I decided- when it came time to do the artwork- to work bioluminescent creatures into the sides… with holes drilled into the lantern where the phosphorescent spots- or ‘photophores’ would be.
I’ve already mentioned lanternfish… but the ‘fish of the month’ this time is not, in point of fact- a fish. I think that I can comfortably use ‘fish’ in the colloquial sense for the purpose of this feature however… otherwise, I’d have to ignore the awesomeness of Architeuthis sp., the giant squid.
I’ve noted- when I sell my work in public- that people have an unpredictable, weird love for cephalopods (signifying ‘head-foot’, the term encompasses the mollusk clade that contains everything from the chambered nautilus to the Giant Pacific Octopus).
Sometimes a person will walk by my booth in a dozey, zoned out wander… and then they’ll see a pot with an octopus. It’s often as if an invisible shepherds crook cinched them at the waist and yanked them backwards.
Our reactions to ‘otherness’ can veer easily into terror. There’s a reason that literature is laced with squid-like monsters (even though there’s minimal evidence*** that a giant cephalopod has ever attacked a human).
***I'm completely ignoring Humbolt squid with this statement. Those things are nasty. And awesome.
The fascination remains though. Interestingly, the recent horror film ‘Monsters’ does a brilliant job of capturing this… with tentacle, squid-like aliens that are also eerily beautiful.
It’s not clear if the original Kraken from the story of Perseus was a cephalopod, but the author of the ‘Histoire naturelle generale et particulière des Mollusques’ (see illustration on the left) clearly thought that it was some sort of mutated octopus. This impression must have been fed by the periodic tendency for giant squid to wash up on beaches.
The fact remains, though, that we know little more about giant squid than we did in the era of captain Ahab and the Pequod. The deep ocean is as cryptic to us as outer space. Giant squid seem to be solitary. They may be large, but the ocean is almost immeasurably larger,
The life of a giant squid- solitary in a complex, resource poor environment, stalked by intelligent predators- seems to be one that would reward problem solving… although they don’t have the constant need to manipulate objects that typifies octopus existence. I’d guess that they’re cat-like in their intellect… wary, maybe a little austere…
Back to giant squid. As with most deep sea creatures, squid emit light. The spackles along their tentacles and flanks (‘photophores’) glow through a phosphorescent reaction. In brief, a number of different compounds (with variance between species) engage with an enzyme called ‘luciferin’. Upon oxidation, the photophores emit light.
The arrangement of photophores varies between squid species (and even individuals). The lights seem to play a role in everything from communication and hunting to predator evasion (the lights may break the squid’s silhouette when seen from below). Needless to say, direct behavioral studies are few. It’s hard to casually relax with a field notebook at 3000 feet below sea level.
Still- the story of a Japanese zoologist and squid fanatic (Dr. Tsunemi Kubodera) who eventually comes face to face with his life’s obsession (through the window of a mobile bathysphere) is pretty awesome.