Divers off the coast of Turkey recently stumbled across a 4-meter wide gelatinous mass floating in the water column, which they soon discovered to be a massive ball of squid eggs.
The egg-mass was spotted 22 meters deep, off Fethiye, a Mediterranean town on the coast of Turkey. The diaphanous sphere studded with tiny white eggs was probably laid by the red flying squid, says Michael Vecchione, a squid expert with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“We know that some of the species in that family lay egg masses that look very much like that in the video,” says Vecchione, who is also the curator of cephalopods—a group including squids and octopuses—at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.
The red flying squid (Ommastrephes bartramii) is the largest found in the area, also making the species the most likely culprit in this recent sighting. They can grow to around 1.5 meters in length. As their name suggests, red flying squid can fly, or rather glide, by jetting out of the water and flatting their tentacles and fins to make “wings”.
Each oblong egg contained in the squids egg-mass is about 0.07 inches (2 millimeters) long. The female embeds them in a gelatinous matrix that grows larger as it mixes with seawater. The resulting egg mass can be enormous — the divers estimated the mass measured about 4 meters in diameter. It is theorised that comparable masses have contained anywhere from 600,000 to 2,000,000 squid eggs.
Vecchione says that it’s extremely rare for people to observe these huge egg masses in the wild for several reasons. First, they’re usually too far offshore and too deep for divers to encounter them.
Once a squid lays its egg mass in the water—and it’s not a species that attaches its eggs to the seafloor—the gelatinous mass starts to sink, Vecchione says. It usually ends up around 150 meters deep when the juvenile squid are ready to hatch.
The egg-masses are also pretty ephemeral. “In this particular family, the embryos hatch very quickly,” Vecchione says. “They develop in just a few days.” So the egg mass the divers spied off of Turkey was likely only a couple of days old, he says
Before this instance, “I can only think of two or three published observations from nature,” Vecchione says. Egg masses have been observed in captivity in Canada and Japan, but nothing on the scale of what’s in the video.
In 2008, scientists documented, for the first time, a humboldt squid egg mass, which they found in the Gulf of California. It is the only egg mass known to rival the one divers found in Turkey. The egg mass described was between 3 and 4 meters long, making it the largest recorded at the time in scientific literature.
Watch footage of the divers discovery below:
Header Photo Credit: Similar egg mass of a different squid species, Thysanoteuthis rhombus, the diamond squid.