There are a few squid species that regularly take to the air. And, though only a dozen or so studies have documented the cephalopods in action, we know that they share the same basic technique.

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How do squid fly?

To move around underwater, a squid will mostly use a form of jet propulsion – sucking water into its body and forcing it out of an organ called a siphon, which it rotates to change direction. The method packs real power – some species can cruise at more than 40kph. This speed is what enables them to launch into the air.

Why do squid fly?

But why do they do this? Well, it’s a great escape trick. If a squid swimming near the surface is spooked by a predator or a boat, it streamlines into a torpedo shape and fires itself out of the water. At the same time, it splays its eight tentacles into a flat, fan-like pattern in front of its face – some breeds even exude mucus to fill in the spaces, creating a unified, kite-like surface. It also flares a pair of fins near its rear end and – voilà – the squid becomes a living, breathing jet.

The cephalopod will then blast water out of its siphon for extra speed, if necessary, to avoid danger. An individual was once captured on film accelerating from 6.5 to 26kph in this way. Biologists have concluded that if the animal were to angle its siphon or its ‘wings’ the right way, it would be possible for the squid to climb higher, and achieve powered flight. If that were ever to happen, then the squid would become the only creature capable of jet-propelled flight.

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Main image: A Humboldt squid © Rick Starr/NOAA/CBNMS.

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