Stubby Squid Facts

Scientific Name: Rossia pacifica

Stubby squid (Rossia pacifica)
A close view of a stubby squid (Rossia pacifica) near the shores of West Seattle, Washington.

Stuart Westmorland / Getty Images Plus

The stubby squid, or Rossia pacifica, is a species of bobtail squid native to the Pacific Rim. It is known for its large, complex (googly) eyes and reddish brown to purple coloration, which turns wholly opalescent greenish grey when disturbed. Its small size and striking appearance have led scientists to compare it to a stuffed toy. While they are called squids, in fact, they are closer to cuttlefish.

Fast Facts: Stubby Squid

  • Scientific Name: Rossia pacifica pacifica, Rossia pacifica diagensis
  • Common Names: Stubby squid, Pacific bob-tailed squid, North Pacific bobtail squid
  • Basic Animal Group: Invertebrate  
  • Size: Body length about 2 inches (males) to 4 inches (females)
  • Weight: Less than 7 ounces
  • Lifespan: 18 months to 2 years
  • Diet: Carnivore
  • Habitat: Polar and deepwater habitats along the Pacific Rim
  • Population: Unknown 
  • Conservation Status: Data deficient

Description 

Stubby squids are cephalopods, members of the Sepiolidae family, the subfamily Rossinae, and the genus Rossia. Rossia pacifica is divided into two subspecies: Rossia pacifica pacifica and Rossia pacifica diegensis. Diegensis is found only in the eastern Pacific coast off Santa Catalina Island. It is smaller and more delicate, has larger fins, and lives at greater depths (nearly 4,000 feet) than the rest of the R. pacifica species. Stubby squids look like a combination of octopus and squid—but they are actually neither, being more closely related to cuttlefish. 

Stubby squids have a smooth, soft body ("mantle") that is short and round with a separate head marked by two large complex eyes. Radiating out from the body are eight suckered arms and two long tentacles which retract and extend as needed to grasp dinner or each other. The tentacles end in clubs which also have suckers.

The mantle (body) of the females measure up to 4.5 inches, about twice that of the male (about 2 inches). Each of the arms has two to four rows of suckers which differ slightly in size. The male has one arm with a hectocotylized sucker at the dorsal end to allow him to fertilize the female. Stubby squids have two ear-shaped fins and a slender, delicate internal shell ("pen"). They produce a great deal of mucus and are sometimes found wearing a "Jello jacket" of mucus to protect themselves from polluted waters.

Stubby Squid (Rossia pacificia)
A man holds a stubby squid which begins to secrete a mucous as a defensive behavior. West Seattle, Washington. Stuart Westmorland / Getty Images Plus

Habitat and Range

Rossia pacifica is native to the northern rim of the Pacific Ocean from Japan to southern California, including the polar reaches of the Bering Strait. They spend the winters on sandy slopes in moderately shallow water, and the summers in deeper water where they breed. 

They prefer sandy to mud-sand bottoms and are found in coastal waters, where they spend most of the day resting at depths of 50–1,200 feet (rarely 1,600 feet) below the surface. When they hunt at night they can be found swimming at or near the coastlines. Preferring to live in shrimp beds near their main prey, they dig themselves into the sand during the day so that only their eyes are visible.

When disturbed they turn an opalescent greenish-gray color and squirt out a blob of black ink—octopus and squid ink is usually brown—that has the shape of a squid body. 

Stubby squid swimming
Disturbed stubby squid swimming. Scott Stevenson / Getty Images

Reproduction and Offspring 

Spawning takes place in deep water during the late summer and fall. Male stubby squids impregnate females by grasping them with their tentacles and inserting the hectocotylus-armed arm into the female's mantle cavity where he deposits the spermatophores. After accomplishing fertilization, the male dies. 

The female lays between 120–150 eggs in batches of about 50 eggs (each under two-tenths of an inch); the batches separated by about three weeks. Each egg is embedded in a large creamy white and durable capsule measuring between 0.3–0.5 inches. The mother attaches the capsules singly or in small groups to seaweeds, clam shells, sponge masses or other objects in the bottom. Then she dies. 

After 4–9 months, the young hatch out of the capsules as miniature adults and soon begin to feed on small crustaceans. The lifespan of a stubby squid is between 18 months to two years.

Conservation Status 

Studies on the stubby squid are difficult, since the creature spends much of its life in deep water, especially compared to its shallow-water Atlantic Ocean cousin Sepioloa atlantica. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the stubby squid as "data deficient." 

The stubby squid appears to survive quite well in polluted urban bays, even those with highly polluted bottom sediments, such as the inner harbors of Seattle and Tacoma, Washington. It is often trawled in large quantities off the Sanriku-Hokkaido coasts of Japan and other subarctic Pacific regions, but its meat is considered inferior tasting to other cephalopods and so has low economic value. 

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