Episode 5: The World of Matriarchal Squid
Updated: Aug 11, 2020
In an ocean surrounded by a miles-deep sheet of ice, the lady squid reign supreme. Don't let their artsy mating rituals and inverted ice mountaineering fool you; they will rip your head off and throw it to the vents.
2. Cecilia O'Leary is an ocean ecologist who models the populations of fish! You can follow her on twitter at @GonzoScientist1
Hey there nerds. Welcome to Exolore, the show about facts based fictional world building. I'm your host Moiya McTier. And today I'm joined by a squid biologist, an oceanographer, and a theater nerd who just so happens to be the co-founder of Caveat NYC. I hope you're ready to talk about some matriarchal squids. Let's get started. The first thing I'd like us all to do is introduce ourselves. So Sarah, you're at the top of my screen, would you mind telling us and the listeners who you are, what you do, and the fictional worlds that you're inhabiting right now, so books you're reading, like TV or games, whatever.
Sounds good. Yeah. Hi, I'm Sarah McAnulty. I am a squid biologist, and the executive director of a nonprofit called Skype A Scientist, that is basically aiming to match up scientists with as many people as humanly possible to get people talking with scientists. So yeah, I'm a science communicator, basically, and I help other scientists do that as well. The fictional world I'm living in, Animal Crossing is probably the world I'm living in the most. It's a sad, stressful world out there. So I'd rather be just like picking peaches or whatever. I just finished a sci-fi book yesterday by Blake Crouch called Recursion, which is all about like, memory and time travel and cool stuff. But I just finished that yesterday, so I'm not living there anymore. And I am usually watching The Good Place, like in the background all the time. So yeah, that's where I'm living.
That sounds awesome. I'd love to be living there too. Yeah. Cecilia, what about you?
Sure. Yeah. My name is Cecilia O'Leary, and I am I guess I'm kind of a mix of an oceanographer and a fisheries biologist. I study anything that's on large scale in the ocean basically. And that also involves climate, and in terms of fictional worlds I'm in. I'm always in the fictional world of Schitt's Creek. That's my number one favorite show. And if you follow me on twitter at all, you'll know that I'm constantly putting Schitt's Creek gifs, and I'm actually also reading a book, I forget what it's called right now. It's not really a fictional world. It's actually about a woman who is on one of the mountain rescue teams in Seattle. And she writes about each of the different mountain rescues that she goes on, And I'm sure about halfway through the podcast. I'll remember the name, the title of the book, but yeah, those other worlds I'm in.
Oh, that sounds so interesting. And I can you know, later edit in...
When I remember...
... images or whatever. Yeah. Kate, what about you?
Yeah, I'm Kate Downey. I am the co-founder and creative director of Caveat, which up until March was a live events venue in the Lower East Side in New York. Now we are on the Internet, and we do live streams six nights a week. But yeah, Caveat puts on a ton of shows pretty much every night of the week, and every single show will make you a little bit smarter and a little bit drunker. Sometimes it's comedy about neuroscience. Sometimes it's drag shows about secret features. Like we have coming up with Sarah. And sometimes it's comedy about political science and circus. So we do a ton of different stuff. But it's all about making entertainment out of information. And fictional ... worlds I'm inhabiting are currently I just finished The Great, the first season of The Great on Hulu, which was aggressively marketed to me on Instagram. They were correct. I loved it. It's Catherine the Great, like early days of her kind of coming to Russia, and like she's like 19 and figuring it out. And it's like Elle Fanning. Oh, and it's just it's like, everything is beautiful, and like it's very like Versailles. Everyone's wearing beautiful clothes, but they're talking in a very contemporary way so it's like what I thought The Favorite was gonna be and it was not. Yeah, no.
Yeah. I didn't know this about you ahead of time, but you liking period TV shows just really fits in with what I already knew about you.
I do. I don't like ... ones that take themselves very seriously. But I love any period piece that like has a sense of humor and like plays with it. And .... I love the way that they talk in this. It's all it's like contemporary, but they all have like great accents. But they're all going like, "fuck you".
Awesome. And I will post links to all of the stuff that our guests are doing down in the description of the video and the podcast, so you can definitely follow them there, but now let's move on to building our world. So whenever I build a world, I always answer questions in the same order. And that order is intentional, because I think that this is the order that just makes sense if you're using logic to create a world. So first I start imagining the environment, like what's the climate, the geography, the physical setting, like, and then I start thinking about biology, which depends directly on your physical environment. Biologists, correct me if I'm wrong. And then I delve into culture, which is the biggest chunk because there's so much to it, but that will depend directly on your biology and your environment. So that's the order that I do things in. And I have picked a setting for our world. The guests know what the setting is and viewers and listeners, you might be able to guess what the setting is based on the expertise of the guests. I've invited. A couple marine biologists, an oceanographer and someone whose Twitter handle used to be @wrongwhale.
So the the world we're imagining today is not actually a planet at all. This is my first non planet, but it's a moon. And there are a couple of moons in our solar system that astronomers think might have a good chance of hosting life. These are Enceladus and Europa. They're icy moons of Saturn and Jupiter, respectively. And they have these icy shells on the outside; but underneath, there are liquid oceans and astronomers think that there's a good chance that they are liquid water oceans, which is very exciting for life. If you're wondering how the heat gets in there, there are a couple different mechanisms. The most common is that the other moons that are orbiting the planet and the planet itself will pull on this moon, Europa or Enceladus and that will create friction through gravitational and titled forces, that friction creates heat, which actually means that you can have a liquid water ocean underneath an icy surface. So that's our world, another consequence of it being a moon instead of a planet is that it's really far away from the sun. So there aren't natural sources of light as powerful as the sun. And we can get into how that would affect our life forms later on in the show. But first, I have a question that I think just shows how little I know about oceans. Why are there currents in our oceans? And would there be currents in this world in this subsurface ocean? Where there's no wind?
I can definitely take that question.
I think that Cecilia is gonna be the best one to answer this one for sure.
That is a super good question, and there's a couple of different reasons that we have currents. The simplest of those are there's wind based currents. So the wind is pushing the surface water and then there's also the thermohaline circulation, which is the fact that we have different temperatures and different densities of seawater due to the salt content. And so that pushes the water around. And so there's a bunch ... things that might happen in this world with the currents, which was totally the first thing that I wanted to talk about, we're gonna have to like, basically reconstruct currents; because those reasons that currents happen might still exist, depending on how thick this ice is, and whether there's any breaks in it. So we can still get wind currents. But also one of the things that directs the currents that are on Earth is the existence of land, right? So anywhere that the currents go, they're often redirected by land and there's a lot of physics involved in that. But basically, if there's land that can't keep going through it, right, and also the land prevents super super large waves and stuff from happening because you can't get as much - there's not as much space for the late or for the wind to be blowing those waves across. So I think one of the first things we would have to figure out about our planet is sort of like, where is salt gonna come from, because there's a bunch of different places where salt comes from on earth that wouldn't necessarily happen on this planet. And how thick is our ice gonna be? How much is this temperature changing? And then we can answer the rest of the current questions.
Great. So these moons have rocky solid cores. And astronomers think that there is ... almost like a liquid mantle core in either Europa or Enceladus, I don't remember. And so they have cores, very similar to Earth, but then it's just a very deep ocean. Something like maybe 10 kilometers deep, and then there's a very thick shell of ice, many kilometers deep.
So that's, that's the world we're going for. There are salts that will just exist because those are the compounds that were around when this moon formed. So there will be salts in the core in the ice, the salt in the ice will lead to very interesting, not plate tectonics, but like subduction of the ice sheets. So that's what we're working with.
Yeah, so I think it's gonna be like, everything will be kind of almost turned over coming from like the bottom up, because we're not gonna have sort of like weathering and precipitation is a lot of where we get the salts in our ocean from. And then we also have sort of new water that forms at the surface that we think about it when water comes up to the surface of the ocean. It's sort of like re- energizing what oxygen, and nutrients and temperature and all that. And so our thermohaline circulation, which is driven by the salt content and the heat content will be start from sort of the bottom up because that's where we're getting our heat from. And so that will be what drives the density differences that happen in our ocean currents. So I think that's the biggest thing. And then the other thing to think about too is if we have this really thick sheet of ice at the top, that means that our water won't get the chance to interact with the atmosphere. So it's not going to change temperatures there, it's not going to get any oxygen or other gases from the surface, it's not going to get any nutrients unless there's something frozen in the ice. So that will that will be what happens within ocean currents.
Amazing. So here on Earth, we have different regions, there's like mountain regions and forests and ocean and desert. I'm wondering if there would be a similar division of regions that could happen in this ocean and would that depend on salt content or density or temperature or like, how would you envision that taking place?
Well, I think what we have in the ocean instead of having these different biomes kind of all over the place like we do on land, you have that but it's all about depth and the amount of light and the amount of pressure that you have. So there's more biodiversity on land on Earth, because there's just more stuff happening in terms of different kinds of environments; and in the ocean, it's really more about yeah, how much light do you have? How much pressure do you have? And in some cases, you might have a little extra thing here and there like the hydrothermal vents, which I'm sure we're going to talk about later. So, yeah, the question is, is any light getting through that ice? Probably not. So I think you're gonna have a much more uniformed situation on this planet then you would typically have when we think about Earth.
But could you still have like valleys like once you get to where kind of the rocky core starts could you still have mountain ranges and valleys and would be like water environment there be significantly different at like the top of a undersea mountain, than at the bottom of an undersea Valley?
I would think. Yeah, I don't know how mountainous the rocky surface at the core would be. But a lot of studies or some studies have been done about these kind of the subduction or this like almost plate tectonic movement of the ice shell. And that could mean that they're like upside down ice mountains near the top. And that would be really exciting I think to explore.
Wouldn't that end up being, like if everything is kind of flipped around and there's like more stuff happening towards the core in terms of like temperature ... would like upside down ice mountains near the surface kind of be like the bottom of the ocean for us? Because it's like the further away from like the source of heat and like nutrients, possibly?
I think in this system, for sure, because so one of the things that is sort of like the primary driver of where stuff is in the ocean is the nutrient levels and the light levels, right? And so if we're basically getting rid of light it sounds like then we won't necessarily have the same productivity zones at the surface. And so in addition to restructuring the currents, we're also restructuring the entire ocean food web, because we're not gonna to have most of it. It's the same as land, so we have primarily on the top of photosynthetic base food web right, so we have all the allergies and stuff that use light and nutrients to produce energy, and also oxygen. So if we have to get rid of all that. That means that that life that's usually on the top that most of the larger things eat and also that life that's on the top when it dies it falls and feeds other stuff in the ocean. That's gone. So I almost kind of envisioned the top being like a desert of sorts, and we don't have that feeding of carbon life on the top down to the bottom. So the only carbon life there's going to be will be these extremophiles that we have in the bottom from the heat source. So that's what I see, in my mind, at least.
Awesome. Sarah, do you have any thoughts to add?
I completely agree. I mean, I think the the blooms of life are gonna come from these chemical sources like hydrothermal vents like we have on Earth. So we might get bigger animals, but the source is totally flip-flopped. Yeah, exactly. Like others said.
Yes. All right. So I love that we've thought about, like, where the source of energy and nutrients is going to be coming from 'cause that will help us decide where our dominant life forms live, or like where all of our life forms live. So let's move on to biology. Let's think about what those life forms actually look like. What types of physical traits and characteristics do you think a species would have to have to claw their way to the top of the food chain? Or like ... fin their way to the top of the food chain, whatever?
Well, I think first of all, one thing about humans is that we tend to, like project our own ways of getting through the world on other animals. And I think we got to throw that shit right out the window, because we are visual creatures, like we rely on vision for a lot. And if we're living in a completely dark place, the way we see is not going to be how these animals get around, they're probably going to need to be really good smellers. They may also need to have some kind of way to sense movements and anywhere around them. And maybe they are seeing things different from us. Like we know that snakes are using heat pits on their faces to sense basically the heat of their prey. I don't know if -
Sarah, you knew that. I did not know that.
Fish do that too.
Yeah, there's some fish, like rat tails that have these little sensory pits for odor.
That's what I'm talking about. So when we were going to have animals with lots of pits on their face to sense instead of the eyes. Maybe that's how they're seeing who's around, what's happening in their environment. Also, maybe echolocation may be important.
Yeah, 'cause sound travels so much faster in water.
Yeah, we can switch everything right. So we can have visuals but we could also just completely switch. We can talk about visuals when we get to squid, obviously, but you could, you know, mimic like a marine mammal world or a fish world which is mostly auditory. And everything that they do is making different noises at different frequencies and sound travels much further to so you can have longer distance communication, which we might need if our existence is dependent on hydrothermal vents, which would be scattered they wouldn't be connected necessarily.
Nice. Fun fact about me, I fell asleep to whale songs all throughout high school.
Really? Yeah, they're very calming. They work.
They're so soothing. I love them a lot. Yeah, I love that we started talking about senses. That's really important. What other traits? Like what would their bodies be like, as I do a little body roll.
There's a couple of things. Sorry, there's a couple different things besides the darkness and the food, like dealing with the cold and the pressure would be another thing that we'd have to deal with. Right? Especially if you want to travel between heat sources. So there's a number of different adaptations that different animals have, at least in the fish and marine mammal world. So they have different proteins that keep their blood from freezing. And then marine mammals will have tons and tons of lipids to keep themselves you know, warm enough and they have different types of circulation. And then there's also -
Is that what we call blubber?
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, which is actually a lot of the polar food webs are based around the transfer of lipids. So it's like slightly different than food webs that you find closer to the equator. And then the other thing that also would be dealing with the pressure, right, so if our systems are based down at the bottom where the heat sources are, the organisms will have to deal with pressure. And I'll let Sarah talk about how invertebrates do that. I don't actually know how that is, but I know that there are some fish that they find it depths that have these proteins that are I think, I don't know how to pronounce it because I've only ever read it, but I think it's called piezolytes, they actually help them tolerate the intense pressure that they feel at depths when they're found by these vents.
That's so cool.
That is cool. Um, so basically, the one great way of getting around a huge pressure situation is just don't have any air in your body whatsoever. If you've got air in your body, it's not going to go great if you're changing pressure a lot So I think probably swim bladders or something that fish have that help with buoyancy, they're out the window, we're not dealing with those. Can't have those, it's just not gonna work out. And then I think if we're dealing with like a one hydrothermal vent, and then a lot of incredibly cold, incredibly high pressure water, we probably are going to have animals that are incredibly like adaptable between different temperatures. So one there's,these really, really cool adaptation that octopuses have called RNA editing. And so basically, you know, you've got your DNA strand, and then the RNA is the copy that actually codes for the protein that you're gonna end up making. And so, cephalopods on the whole are very adaptable in their RNA because they can get the RNA copy, and then fuss around with it a little bit using these other proteins called eight hours, that basically say okay, today I need this particular protein to be a little bit more suited for this situation as opposed to this situation that's incredibly anthropomorphize. But you know what I'm saying like there are different isoforms to different situations. And so there's this one octopus, that was one of the like the first examples where we showed this was happening, because when you put it in cold water, you'd get one type of protein. And then when you put it in warmer water, you get the same protein, but different, basically. And so if that's what you have, if you have to have an animal that's going from pretty hot water around a hydrothermal vent, to incredibly cold back to incredibly hot, maybe these animals might have proteins with shorter lifespans, but that you're pumping out all the time. So you can quickly like switch your method for different things you need.
That's really cool. Does that like, change how, like ... I want it to be more dramatic than it is probably.
We can make it super dramatic.
We're making up an imaginary world so let's go. Why not?
I'm sure like in octopuses it is like, it's just happening inside them, like, how we oxidize blood or whatever but like, what I want it to be is like, a costume change.
Yeah, I mean octopuses are doing costume changes literally constantly, so that can scratch that itch for you, they do that. But yeah, I mean, they're probably not doing it consciously it's just there's a system that tells the RNA, "hey, it's time to change our tune here."
Hmm. Very cool.
Um, I would love for us to get weird and creative, and Kate, I know you've seen a lot of poorly drawn pictures of whales. So I wonder if you've seen anything in these pictures that we know are totally wrong here on Earth, but might give us some inspiration for a weird thing we can add to our lifeform here.
Yes, absolutely. Such a strange twist of fate that this is why I'm called into podcasts now. So, years ago, I worked as a tour guide at many museums around the country, and I became really fascinated with ... like scientific drawings of whales from the 17- and 1800s, because in the 17- and 1800s, science was a really flexible term, which didn't really mean anything. Um, and so scientific drawings of whales would be basically like, someone who had seen a whale would describe it to someone who could draw and was interested in science and they would draw what someone had described to them and they would be like science, it's a whale. This is what it is put it in a book. And so there's so many drawings of whales and they're beautiful like ornate like they're really amazing drawings, but they're very incorrect in terms of whales; and if someone might have seen a whale or a sea creature and decided it was a sea monster, and so described a sea monster and was like, "that's a whale. That's what's out there". And people were really terrified of the ocean and like what was under the ocean, and there was all this stuff about like, "hell maybe is under the ocean, because we don't know what's there. And it might be hell", I don't know.
I mean, fair.
That's a mysterious place.
Right, and then the only other way that people could occasionally actually see a whale, if they were not whalers was if a whale died and like ... washed up on the beach. And they would actually because it was such a strange thing they would like have carnivals on top of the whale. So ...
On the whale?
Yeah, I can. I'll send you some stuff.
Ugh, that sounds really smelly.
Yeah, but I think everything was smelly then. But there's literally drawings of like a ... Big Top set up like on top of a whale, and then people just like in a line like walking on top of the whale and like people were like cooking parts of the whale on a little stove and it's insane. But anyway, obviously what happens to a whale when it has been like rotting at sea for a long time and been eaten by things and then washes up and continues to bloat. That's not actually like what a whale looks like. So I don't know if this is helpful to this discussion, but one of my favorite parts of these drawings is the whale penis. When it washes up on shore and it's bloated, whales have really long penises, obviously, but usually they're like tucked into a little pouch, I think is the scientific term for it.
All of the polite whales use their penis pouch.
Yes, exactly ... but when they bloat, it sort of like spills out, and it sometimes it's like kind of like a loose sock. There's all of these like drawings of whales with their tongues sticking out, and then like really long, like loose penises coming out. Yeah, that's ... one of my favorite elements of these drawings, that people were like science whales have giant -
Big, floppy dicks. Yeah, great.
I did an episode with Kyle Marian, who's a former physical anthropologist, and she brought up that common discussion in physical anthropology is genital size and how it relates to social structures. And I promised her, that I would start off my next Exolore discussion with "so how big do we think their genitals are"?
Here we go.
So how big do we think their genitals are?
I mean, it's a big open ocean?
Well, we can look to the Barnacles. They have incredibly long penises that's one -
Comparable to their size, not like just in general.
That's because they like they can't move, so right they're gonna reproduce they would need to have these long things that can make babies.
Exactly. So I think ... the penis size is going to be very dependent on how much you're moving. So -
Are we gonna have things moving?
I think so. Yeah. I mean, that was part of why they need to be able to adjust temperatures if they're moving from hotspring to non-hotspring.
Yeah, and I think if we're later gonna talk about culture, I think it's pointless to talk about culture if nobody's moving.
Or super isolated cultures.
Right, but if everybody's just like staying put forever, then culture is just ... doesn't really matter.
Well, the other thing too, is that ... we haven't really talked yet about hydrothermal vents, but they have a limited lifespan, right? They don't last forever. So eventually things would have to move. If they don't have some way of dispersing for reproduction, they would have to move from vent system to vent system. So it could be almost some sort of like nomadic or fish infusions kind of society?
What's the time scale of that? Is it like many generations can use the same hydrothermal vent? Or is it like, "oh, it's another month, I have to move again"?
Within the scale of decades, I think.
So some animals will have multiple generations, probably most of animals I'm thinking of that live in hydrothermal vents on Earth are going to have multiple generations for sure. But you know, not like tens of generations if we're thinking of organisms that are living as long as humans do.
I wonder if there are things that they need, that are outside of the like, thermal vent area ,that they have to like gather or go on treks to get these things.
Yeah, 'cause you're gonna have a lot of like the same stuff at a hydrothermal vent like that sulfurous stuff, right? But maybe like broadly in the ocean that we're working with, there's gonna have a lot of something else like some kind of mineral you need that's been totally covered up by this hydrothermal vent schmutz. And so you got to go outside, grab your stuff, bring it back to home, and then work with it.
Okay, this relates very closely to a really fascinating book that I just read. I'm at my boyfriend's parents house and it's not the house he grew up in, but they saved a lot of like his stuff. And I found the very first "Animorphs" book ... I don't know where it is right now, but it has like a kid turning into a lizard on the front and if you flip the corners, it's got like a little flip book in it in a real like, innovative move for a book. And I started reading it out loud to him as a joke; and then I was like, "ah, shit. Now I have to finish reading". So I read the whole book, and I must have read these when I was a kid, but I like don't remember them at all. And the whole plot is that these aliens ... that have come to earth and they're like slugs that crawl into people's brains and control them. And then there's another race of aliens that are trying to save people and they give them the power to morph into animals. That part is not important.
That sounds very important to the plot of the story.
To the plot, but not for our discussion, but these alien slugs that live in your brain are called "Yeerks", and they can only live in your brain for three days and then they have to go to a yeerk pool. To like gather essential nutrients that are not available on earth to like, soak that back up for like, an hour, and then they ... can crawl back into your brain. So I wonder if it's something like that where it's like, they can live at the hydrothermal vents, and they have everything that they need. But like every so often, there's like a nutrient.
Yeah. Hydrothermal vents, there's, I mean, the most frequent example that you see in most things is that there's this symbiotic relationship between bacteria and worms, where the worms can eat the bacteria and the bacteria can oxidize the sulfide that's in the system, and that's how they make energy. And we could totally make this a parasitic situation instead, where it's living inside something and taking advantage and then traveling far. Maybe it could animorph into some sort of squid situation.
What did you say that it was bacteria that can ... and I know that there are some symbiotic or like parasitic situations where like an animal will basically like gather certain kinds of bacteria that perform a job for it. And so ... I guess that's symbiosis then, and if these animals had that bacteria on them, and then could go to the thermal vents where like, the bacteria could do its work, but maybe, I don't know. Yeah, I don't know what they need to leave for but ...
Yeah, so it's typically like, it's symbiotic and that the animal that the bacteria is living inside and sort of regulate the flow of nutrients and stuff that get to the bacteria. And sometimes they'll even eat the bacteria or the energy, and then the bacteria are chemoautotrophs, so they can produce energy from the chemicals in the water rather than photoautotrophs, which is what we're used to seeing, which is taking the light and producing energy instead. Um, so you could do that, and then I don't know what you would need, I guess maybe more space. Or what would be like a limiting resource and this?
Well, I'm picturing these hydrothermal vents almost like watering holes.
And people can gather at the watering hole and they can spend time there, but if a predator comes by, like you're gonna scatter and I like the idea of us thinking about all these different creatures that would exist on this world, and how their schedules ... interplay with the schedule of like this dominant kind of apex predator in this environment.
What does the apex predator look like?
Yes, so this is the dominant thing. Let's focus on that, and start thinking about the traits that would just lead you beat everyone.
There's an animal that I am picturing that lives near like oil rigs, like very deep in the ocean. It's called the Magna pinna or the The Bigfin Squid or the Long-armed squid, depending on who you ask, but basically, they're about person sizeish. And they have very, very long, tendril-y arms that like hang down from their regular suction cup arms. And they're about eight meters long, and they kind of look like they have an elbow. So it's like squid face, and then just eight elbows, and each elbow's got this eight meter long dangler. And so maybe our big predator like you may not see the predator right away because he's eight meters away, dangling his danglers. And then maybe like the danglers also are very good at ... I don't know, let's say that they're covered in mucus, okay, because we don't want anyone to smell the predators around because that's important and they're very fine danglers that go with the flow because you don't want anybody to feel that you're around. You got to be a real stealth predator - not necessarily visually, but on all these other aspects of sensory organs that we're working with. So we're going with the flow, so you can't feel them, you're covered in mucus so you can't smell them. Much like parrotfish when they sleep, they cover themselves in a big slime ball so that they can't be smelled. And so that's also what I hereby declare our big predator's doing. And so when our predator bumps that dangler into our, whatever is living there, that's when it'll grab on and pull it up like the claw from Toy Story.
I think our predator should also be able to detect heat, because it will be able to find the hydrothermal vents that way, and I can't remember why but I know it must be the chemical processes that are happening, but hydrothermal vents also give off like a dim bioluminescence which I think they should be able to detect too.
I love that.
Yeah. Okay, great.
If you introduce light then you then you're introducing all kinds of stuff like ... creatures that can sense light better would maybe do better in certain situations. Yeah, I love that.
Awesome. All right, so it's called the Magna "paenna?"
Magna pinna. P-I-N-N-A.
Magna pinna. Alright, so that's what we're basing our, like powerful dominant species on. And they can't spend all their time at the hydrothermal vents because then none of the other creatures that they presumably eat would ever go there and they wouldn't have a source of food. So there's like some migration to in a way from the hydrothermal vents for everyone. Cecilia, what did you have to say?
Okay, so I just thought too, our predator... So presumably there's variation in the thickness of this ice ... I've decided that there is, so there's a lot of seals like Weddell seals that use their teeth to dig through the ice to create air pockets. So I think that our really super large predator would be able to have some sort of teeth or something hard, some calcium hard surface that allows them to dig through the ice so they could hide at the surface as well.
Yes, well, I just started rewatching Avatar: The Last Airbender. I love the idea of them being able to like hide, and maybe preserve themselves in the surface ice sheet.
Great. Any last thoughts on this before we move on to it a different thing?
I like our predator.
Me too. Me too. All right. Um, so let's let's start thinking about how the predator - like how might reproduction work for this predator, which will give us a really interesting foundation to then think about like their family unit, and how that aspect of culture works. So is there like do all squids reproduce in the same way?
The transfer of sperm is wildly different between different squid species, some is quite violent some is lovely and straightforward and not violent at all ... but in all cases that I can think of off the top of my head right now you've got the transfer of sperm to the female she can store it for however long is appropriate for her species, sometimes like up to a month or more, but sometimes like days. It kind of depends on the species and the availability of sperm. And so then, she goes to lay a clutch of eggs, this can come in many different forms depending on what kind of squid you are. But then, the clutch of eggs can have varying numbers like thousands and thousands or like twenty, and then they developed from eggs. Sometimes the eggs are left on the bottom of the sea floor. Sometimes they're carried around with mom. Now in terms of our predator squid, I just feel like changing the temperature of eggs is going to be hard. And there are some species of cephalopods specifically these deep sea octopuses that will go without eating for four and a half years while her eggs develop, which is why she doesn't move. She doesn't eat, she doesn't do anything, but take care of her eggs for four and a half years while they're developing Now, I think our squid probably should carry eggs with her. I don't think she should be leaving them on the sea floor somewhere because it's either going to be way too cold or way too hot. So she may just do like circles - since she's the apex predator. We don't have to worry too much about things attacking her. So -
But things can eat the eggs, so she definitely doesn't want to leave them.
Things could eat the eggs, so you don't want to leave them somewhere, although there are bacteria that protect squid eggs and make them generally like not great eaten. So generally squid eggs are left on the seafloor don't get eaten too much, but I'm imagining mama squid, she's carrying all of her eggs with her. And there are many squid species that live in the deep sea that you'll just see like carrying a bunch of eggs around with them. And so I'm thinking she's doing an orbit around the hydrothermal vent to be in that like, Goldilocks temperature for squid egg development.
Or what would it be like a like a March of the Penguins situation where mama stays in one place or dad, and the other one goes and like, gets food and maybe comes back maybe doesn't?
That's totally possible to um given that we're not strictly required to make the squid a squid. This is a space squid. We can absolutely have a mishmash of organisms. So yeah, maybe she stays in that orbit so dad always knows where she is, and then can do a quick zoop zoop zoop around the orbit to be like, "where's mom, have a crab" or what have you, and then and then go back to hunting.
Amazing. I read about a month ago that a lot of squid species die after they reproduce, and that it is in somehow related to like hormones that are tied to the optic nerve or like something there because the study may have been completely bunked, but it looked kind of legit, where they tried removing this specific nerve. And then squids live longer after they reproduced. And I feel like because it's the optic nerve, I think it'd be really fun if our apex predator was blind, even though there is some light down at the bottom. So they have that disadvantage 'cause they can't see, but other things can but it does let them live longer.
I'm totally on board with that. Some squid species can reproduce repeatedly and it's no big deal. But yeah, that sounds good.
Like the thing in Pan's Labyrinth? Is it, that lives in a tree, I think? it has the like eyes on it hands, but it doesn't really see it just smells.
So creepy. Like definitely gave me nightmares as a kid.
Oh, yeah, it was super creepy.
Awesome. All right. So if that's how they reproduce, the moms carry the eggs with them, and circle in this predetermined location so the dads can come find them. What does that mean for like family relationships? Or maybe gender roles?
Do you draw on marine mammals a little bit here. Um, I mean, there's all day different structures, social structures and marine mammals that, you know, they're not necessarily carrying the eggs, but they say a lot of different marine mammals stay with their young. And they develop these pods where, you know, there's these matriarchal situations where, you know, grandmothers and mothers and non related, other females in the system they all stay together and protect their young together. And then you have other situations where you go off in pairs, and some of them we call them "fission fusion societies" where they have their little groups, but they come back to the big group together and they sometimes remix and then they'll go back out again. So they have sort of like a home base, but they, you know, keep going back in and out. So you have situations like that. And then there's all sorts of like communications within those systems where they have you know, songs that are used for communication, that are culturally transmitted from generation to generation, so I think all those things you could draw on particularly if this is a long lived species.
The big point for matriarchal societies is, lineage ... in humans anyway, like, old matriarchal societies. It just made more sense for lineage to be based on like the mother, because like, you always know, if you're a mother, like, you know, it's your kid. And this is why patriarchy like makes no sense 'cause it's like, "oh, you're never sure". And so much violence in the world is just because men have been like, "Wait, is it my kid? Like, are we sure?" Women are like, "I know it's my kid. I know it". So that's one really good strength. I don't know when you mix eggs into the equation, I don't know if that changes, but I love the idea of of like squid matriarchs orbiting like traveling in a loop, love that.
One thing that this makes me think of is a process where all of the women who have eggs will circle in the same loop. And there's a chance that like their menfolk when they go off to get food and bring it back might die. But if they maneuver it so that the menfolk when they come back, can't tell which eggs are theirs, they'll just give food to all of the pregnant...
I love that.
...squid women who are circling in this orbit.
And the women would never tell.
Now, there's an important thing about squid in that many squid species will have fewer females than males generally, and the females will mate with many males during mating season. And then even within one clutch of eggs have different fathers for different eggs. And so this actually makes perfect sense because as long as a male has mated with anybody, it's in his best interest to feed everybody because as long as you mated with one of the females, you know, feed them.
This makes me really happy.
Very, "takes a village".
Yeah. This is switching gears a little bit. What do we think their general outlook on life might be? We just talked about, like the birthing cycle, but what about death? Are they afraid of it? Do they welcome it? Do they hate it? Like what? What's going on? What do we think?
Ooh. Well, we think of we talk about death a lot in terms of like, darkness and like, going towards the light. I wonder if for them it's more about temperature. If it's more about like, getting cold or yeah, losing warmth. Yeah.
I think that makes perfect sense. And I think like, there should be some sort of thought about like giving back like the cycle of it all, because you're already cycling, like circling over things. You're cycling back between the hydrothermal vents and your orbit back and forth, back and forth, like, and all of your life comes from this one place. So, I don't know, I would imagine there would be kind of like a great circle of life kind of approach toward thinking about death.
I wonder if they have any conceptual ideas about what's past the ice?
Yeah, I mean ... we talked a bit earlier about them being able to burrow into it. That can be a survival strategy, but it can also be turned into something that becomes a religious passage or rite, like to see how far you can get into it.
And I think all of this would be a perfect thing to have as a storytelling society, right? Because we can still have sound, and we know that there's lots of animals in the ocean that have, you know, sounds that they pass on and sounds that they change and have different, you know, sort of like flows like classical music, where it has different sections that they change as generations passed by which you could totally tell this epic story in that format.
And singing .
And especially if they're a group, I wonder if they sing together.
Yeah, like, those animals, that sing in chorus. So there's all sorts of different like frogs and other ... dolphins that have chorus singing that, you know, it's the topic of lots of behavioral studies, but I'm not sure that anyone fully understands it, whether it's an actual sort of method of communication or if it's just a way to form bonds between individuals or what but yeah.
It makes me think that like their version of high school Glee Club, almost as are like maybe even more popular than like, jocks or like football players ... so if they have the cyclical view of nature, and it seems like they would be very okay with their body then returning to nature because that means the rest of their community will benefit from it. So how would they honor that step in the process? Would funerals and burial rites be really elaborate because they're grateful that this once living form is going to be giving back to community in this new way, or do these rituals not exists because like this is just something that you're expected to do, it shouldn't be celebrated?
I would think it'd be like a funeral pyre out on the Viking ship type situation where they like maybe drop the body on top of the animals that they're going to eat. So that you know, you're kind of fertilizing your food source.
For sure. It'd be like a whale fall ceremony, right? You have all these desert areas in the ocean. And then you suddenly have a whale that dies and falls to the bottom of the ocean and it's completely overrun with different types of marine animals in different stages. I could see that becoming part of this process where maybe they even use their hole that they dug out with their teeth to get to the surface.
Maybe they also erected a Big Top over it and have a carnival, on the dead body.
I would think that if the core group of these animals is like moving of these creatures is always about moving and like keeping in motion maybe part of recognizing a death is like stopping for a little while? I think like elephants do this, where they'll like pause their migration, and basically have a funeral.
That makes total sense. Yeah.
What might there art be like? We've talked a lot about singing. Are there other art forms that they would develop or really appreciate?
But it has to be sensory. Right? Right or not visual. So yeah, I wonder if that's like if there's temperature based or -
Maybe be smell based?
Yeah ... like if they're very sensitive to temperature and like feeling how the water is moving, if there are ways to like move warm water and cold water into each other in like beautiful ways that they can sense.
Okay, so if we're working with effectively a squid, you've got the ability to take a lot of water in, and then hold it. So if they swim down to where it's warmer, take a deep breath and hold it in their bodies, and then instead of jet propulsioning back to where they were flap flap flapping, because squid have the ability to flap or squirt, basically. And so they can take a deep breath, hold it in and then together be moving that temperature and like basically dance meets something we don't have.
Like, what's that, I used to have it when I was a kid - it's like spin art where it's like a table that turns and you squirt water?
What about maybe like rites of passage? What would be the different stages of life and how would you know? How would you signal that you have advanced to the next stage?
I think a big rite of passage here would be choosing the event that you go to, because I think that in a lot of hydrothermal vents situations, you've got a dispersal. And this is also true of squid like where you have this stage of life where you're ultra, ultra tiny, and you're just floating in the current or whatever, looking for a place to live. And so maybe, you know, all those babies go forth and some of them might end up back in the little society that they started in, or they might end up in the next event over. I think so getting to the vent would be the first major step after hatching.
Like moving day?
Moving day. Yeah,
That's beautiful. We've talked about how they have really, like tightknit communities. But if there's this initial dispersal, that means that these tight knit communities that they love and protect are communities that they chose.
Well and it leads to genetic diversity, so that's good, right?
Always a good thing. It's sentimental and profitable all at once. What other stages would there be like sexual maturity?
I feel like there has to be, especially if these are they're not always family groups, there has to be some. All of these like females that are forming the like core group, there has to be some kind of like bonding ceremonies. To make it cohesive and to like, make it kind of official that they're part of the group.
Maybe as you're like, coming of age ceremony, you need the males and the females both as a group, work together to put together one of those art pieces. So every year, in let's say spring, we're probably not gonna have seasons because everything is kind of working, you know, but like what a certain time of year, or developmental cycle. All the males, all the females do this dance this sensory water temperature dance, because you got to work together to be able to make a piece of art together.
Yeah, and I feel like Kate you are getting towards the, like the bonds just between the women and the community? Like what what could they have that special to them?
I mean, it has to be some kind of like sharing things ... maybe some sacrifice you make for the group, something you give up; and because if we're thinking that part of the survival tactic of this group like this sort of setup is that the the males can't really tell the females apart. I wonder if like they are kind of born with individual markings. But then the females like give them up to be able to, like make this survival strategy work and become part of a group.
I like that. Another thing I thought of was maybe a big hunt? So they they go out and they hunt together and bring food back for the men. And it's like, "well, we're feeding you now, because we expected you to feed us later." So yeah.
They're also like in penguins, and I guess some dolphins they have sort of like unique vocalizations that the mother and calf or the mother and chick can identify. They can identify each other, but nobody else necessarily recognizes it. Which is also another thing that could be established.
Yeah, I like that a lot. Sarah, you brought something up in passing about like seasons. But I think you're right, there wouldn't be seasons here, or at least not in the way that we think of them here on land on Earth.
So how do we think they would perceive or measure the passage of time? What natural things around them? Would they use to keep regular intervals in check?
I wonder if each community would have its own clock, because like, you need everybody to be breeding at the same time to have this like, everybody growing up at the same time, that kind of seasonality of things, even if the temperature doesn't change, even if your food source doesn't change. But like your life cycle, effectively, would determine that but like, what are your environmental cues? Based on that? I don't know, and how would that relate to when your vent dies basically when it stops producing?
That can be our passage of time. I mean, maybe short term time doesn't matter?
Maybe, but like if you have a constant production of babies oceanwide and constant recruitment oceanwide like, I guess the ones that are late comers will have to just decide whether they're in like the older group that's going to mature quicker or the beginning of the next cohort, effectively. And I don't know how that would be determined. Like, some squid will sexually mature faster than others. And why that is, I don't know, but some of them just like they're better at hunting, they get more food, they kind of reach the size where they're like, "alright, I'm ready", effectively; and temperature can have a huge effect on how quickly they grow, how quickly the eggs develop as well. So if you know that you're in the beginning of the cohort, maybe those groups like the beginning of the cohort goes to a colder area to slow down their development. And then when it comes time to like kicking into gear, or if you're at the end of your cohort, you're generally going to be pushed more to the center of this circle. So that will be one way of controlling how quickly you grow. Yes, there'll be ways of doing that.
Word. Cool, I also guess it's not like their body becomes sexually mature, and then they have to act on it immediately.
But there's a time.
Right, exactly. Yeah.
Okay. Great, and we're almost at the end of the hour. So do any of you have any last thoughts, things that we didn't touch on that you you'd like to talk about now?
I feel like I don't know how the males in this society like what they're doing all the time?
Do we care?
Well, I think gaining access to mating is challenging for many species. for birds for for squid for lots of things. So I think during their youth, they need to be the best artists they could possibly be for their grand dance because that is when the females are going to be like, "okay, that one did a great job that one was off time, that one was really horrible". And, you know, however, they're deciding because their use is all about getting strong and effective at art. And then once they're mating age, they need to be mating as effectively as possible during that time period. And then it's just food, food, food, food for the ladies. It's like you're hunting that's your job. Yeah, that's what they're doing.
I wonder ... I mean, if those are three, like very different skills, I wonder if like some of them are popular at some point. Some of them are popular at other points, like maybe the ones that are really good at art turn out to be like very bad at hunting, and so like they get kind of like pushed aside, the females end up having like, other favorites.
It's possible. Yeah. And then one of the ones who don't end up meeting what do they do?
Yeah, if it's a collective society. It's like "too bad".
Too bad buddy, you got to do it. Yeah.
I'm sure that there are other things right, like defense or -
Well, their the apex predator, what would they be defending against?
Doctors! Yeah, this is an advanced enough civilization which it can become over enough time, they'll have other pursuits. This is actually what I wanted to mention as my last point. We only talked about like biological functions necessary to survive. We didn't talk about any any recreational stuff or things that they do - not because they have to but because they want to.
I bet they have like racetracks for the small creatures around the fence.
Longest racetrack ever. We could also just copy some fish feces and move completely to asexual reproduction and not have this situation at all.
That's true. Yeah. Are there gay squids?
Um, great question. So there are deep sea squid called "octopeteuthis deletron", males will mate with males. They're one of the violent maters, they're very infrequently encountering another squid. And so when a male squid has the opportunity to mate with another squid, the way they do it is basically by grabbing the other squid by the torso effectively and then taking this like sharp tentacle that they have and shoving sperm straight through the body cavity and sticking it on the wall on the inside. And they'll do that with males or females, because any squid they get they're going to take that opportunity.
I hate that.
It's nasty. It's not what you want, so that's the thing that happens.
I don't want to end on that.
It's not nice, so we shouldn't add on that.
I have one. I bet there are very pleasant practices of getting warm water like for art, but then like bathing each other in it.
I love that. I love that. Yeah, like that'll be so nice, like a little spa. That's very nice. I bet they do that.
So some roles that we see happening once they move beyond the survival stage are like masseuse?
Scientist maybe? Like a doctor?
Yeah, I love the idea of there being religious leaders, but eventually also like tour guides, taking people to the upside down ice mountains. And whether it's like a religious experience or a sacred journey.
Some kind of Squid, "Eat, Pray, Love".
Or even maybe like a sports arena, like maybe that's where the upside down sports happen? Maybe you're taking like something that would float, and that's the like ball in this situation and you can like shoot it in directions with your siphon. You know,
So we definitely need scientists to deal with some buoyancy issues then?
That's right. That's right.
Absolutely. Um, Cecilia, any last thoughts?
I don't know. I don't know if I cant top that last bit.
All right. Well, hopefully you'll continue to think about this world. Although it kind of sounds very similar to the worlds that Cecilia and Sarah inhabit, like in their jobs.
I fully plan on a traveling caravan of women who disguised themselves so the men have to feed them.
Personally, I think what I need to take out of this is that I need to be in a lazy river just like lounging, being fed by men. That's what I'm looking for. I want to be in an inner tube in the sun. You know, getting fed.
We basically replicated Antarctica.
Is that what happens in Antarctica?
Every time I've gone to count penguins in Antarctica, this is exactly what happens.
I'm missing out.
Well kept secret.
Okay, that is a much better note to end on. So, if our viewers or listeners want to learn more about you, how can they do that? And what would they be learning about? I'll go in reverse order. So Kate, can people find more about you?
Yes, I am @katehelendowney on Twitter and Instagram. You can also follow @caveatNYC on Twitter and Instagram. Go to Caveat.NYC to see all of our upcoming live streams and Sarah makes an appearance pretty regularly.
And so does Moiya actually.
Yeah, I mean, I love Caveat. This was a show at Caveat at one point. That's how it was born. Great. Thank you for that, Kate. Cecilia, what about you? How can people learn about what you're doing?
Yeah, sure if you want to learn more about what I do or the research I do, or occasionally I do some scicomm, and I talk about oddball ocean organisms on my Twitter page, which is @GonzoScientist1, and that's probably where I interact with people the most. Occasionally I'll go on Skype A Scientist too. So if you request an oceanographer, you can sometimes get me.
Word. Sarah, what about you?
You can find me and learn all about squid all the time at @SarahMackAttack on Instagram, Twitter and TikTok. Although I live on Twitter. I'm on Twitter all the time, and on the others only like a couple times a day. And you can learn more about Skype A Scientist, which you should definitely check out it is free for everybody. And just an awesome resource that everyone should take advantage of. That's skypeascientist.com. You can also follow us on Twitter @Skypescientist or Instagram @SkypeAScientist. Yeah, that's everywhere you can follow me and what I do.
Great, and in case you didn't get any of those spellings or anything, I'm linking to all of those pages down in the description so you can go there to find more about our amazingly talented and brilliant guests. And yeah, that's all I have if you continue to live in this world, this imaginary world that we've just created and you want to make some art featuring this world I would absolutely love to see it, share it with the hashtag Exolore, and I'll check it out even if I just want to create some art. I don't know if any of you consider yourselves artistic, but -
You don't want us to make art.
I will share the picture of the beached whale with a with a circus around it and I'll tag Exolore, so you can see it.
Thank you. Well, thanks again for lending me your time, and your brains and your senses of humor.
Thank you for having us.
Yeah, seriously, thanks this was a lovely escape today.
That's that's what I tried to offer. Awesome. Yeah, thanks again and I'm gonna stop recording now.
Thank you so much for joining us on our Waterworld inspired by the moons, Enceladus and Europa in our own solar system. Huge thanks to my guests, Cecilia O'Leary, Sara McAnulty and Kate Downey for helping me imagine a world full of badass ladies squid to trick their menfolk in defeating the collective. And I also want to thank my patrons from Patreon. My first goal on Patreon is to make enough that I can actually pay my guests for the hard work that they put into each episode. So if you want to help me with that, head on over to patreon.com/goastromo. If you like this episode, be sure to share it with your friends, and subscribe to the show. That way you can catch me next time on another world.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai