Animal, Vegetable or Mineral? Mystery objects from the Booth Museum

It’s time for another round of our Booth Museum Animal, Vegetable or Mineral? quiz.

Having worked at the Booth Museum for several years, I have seen a lot of really bizarre objects behind the scenes which never fail to leave me shocked and amazed. Normally, at museum events, I get to bring these objects out to show visitors and have a quick Booth Museum game of Animal, Vegetable or Mineral? But under the circumstances of Covid-19, we thought we would write our game as an online quiz instead.

In each blog, we will focus on an interesting object and discover how it was made, where on earth it has come from and throw in a few juicy facts along the way.

Can you guess what the mystery object is before we reveal the answer?

Mystery Object of the Day

Mystery object
Mystery object in my hand

Clue 1 

These tiny spiraled objects are part of an animal whose relatives are said to be one of the most mysterious creatures of the deep. Good ol’ Kirk Douglas may have a whale of a tale to tell you about this animal; a whale of a tale or two!

Clue 2 

Their favourite hideout is fabled to be 20,000 leagues under the sea. Top tip, if you ever find yourself at these depths, don’t forget to watch out for the tentacles!

And the answer is…Drum roll please!

 

The Rams Horn Squid, Spirula spirula 

Spirula spirula, illustration by Rachel Caauwe / CC BY-SA 3.0

Are you squiding me?

These sweet little animals aren’t exactly what you would call giant, in fact, they are pretty tiny reaching no more than 45mm when fully grown. Like the legendary Kraken they do like to hang out in the deep ocean, not quite 20,000 leagues under the sea, but they can be found at depths of up to 550-1000m during the day. When night falls, thousands of these tiny animals make one of the largest vertical mass migrations in the world, travelling to the shallows of 100-300m in order to feed on small fish, crustaceans and echinoderms.  They use their two large tentacles, laden with strong suckers, to grab onto their prey and draw victims to their mouths. If their prey has a tough shell, no problem for the little rams horn squid, they have a sharp beak at the ready to crush it open!

Like many weird and wonderful deep-sea creatures, Spirula spirula have a light emitting organ or photophore which is nestled between their ear-like fins and gives out a green light, this has landed them their other common name the tail-light squid. This photophore can light up for several hours and is thought it may be a key source of communication for them. 

I can sea clearly now

Now I know the image above doesn’t give much away as to where our mystery object comes from in Spirula spirula, but this diagram of its lovely innards hopefully reveals all…

Spirula spirula cross section of animal Ewald Rübsamen / Public domain

The objects in my hand were the internal shell of Spirula spirula. These shells look like a miniature rams horns and is where they get their common name from – can you imagine how tiny that ram would have to be!?

Spiral shell of ram’s horn squid (Spirula_spirula), on Muriwai Beach Avenue / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

The ram’s horn squid is in the cephalopod (aka head-foot) family which includes the octopuses, squid, cuttlefish and nautiluses. Their shells are chambered, which is a characteristic of cephalopod shells and act as a buoyancy device. The chambers can be filled with gas, which helps to keep their body upright when migrating through the ocean. These animals are rarely seen by humans alive, the shells on the other hand, are thought to be carried wide distances by the ocean currents. They frequently get washed up on tropical or subtropical beaches including Australia and New Zealand.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to jet off to Australia to see fascinating objects like these washed up on the shore. On our very own Brighton beach you will find numerous cuttlefish bones from one of our resident cephalopods the common cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis). It’s amazing what gets washed up on a beach don’t you think?

Common cuttle fish, Sepia officinalis, Marie Bournonville / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Discover More

You can see an impressive fossil of an ancient ammonite, the rams horn squid’s distant relative, on display in the Booth Museum when we re-open.

You can learn more about Sussex marine life and how to protect it using via Sussex Wildlife Trusts Our Living Seas website.

References   

https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Spirula_spirula/

https://niwa.co.nz/blogs/critter-of-the-week-spirula-spirula

https://ocean.si.edu/ocean-life/invertebrates/cephalopods

https://australianmuseum.net.au/learn/animals/molluscs/rams-horn-squid-spirula-spirula-linnaeus-1758/

Grace Brindle, Programming Assistant

3 Responses

  1. Jayne WINTERBOTTOM

    Another interesting article, l’ll be keeping a look out for spirula spirula the next time lm on the beach. Thanks!

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