The Blob is real, but it’s not invading your local movie theater. This one lurks underwater and is made of something almost weirder than alien protoplasm.
Mysterious human-sized blobs — which easily could have passed as the star of the cult extraterrestrial thriller — have been sighted since 1985. They were just unidentified floating objects until now. Divers had seen them before, but could never figure out what they were because it was nearly impossible to make anything out. Scientists have finally identified the things as egg sacs from the elusive squid species Illex coindetii. Much like an actual squid, these things might even camouflage themselves.
Check one out in the National Geographic video below:
Otherwise known as the shortfin squid, I. coindetii lays hundreds of thousands of eggs suspended in slowly disintegrating mucus. At least that was what researcher Halldis Ringvold and his team found out when they were able to take a more in-depth look at a sample from one of the blobs.
“Huge gelatinous spheres from squid are difficult to study in situ. They are rarely reported, and hard to sample,” Ringvold said in a study he recently led, which was published in Scientific Reports. His previous observations have shown these masses can get to be as wide as 12 feet in diameter.
Ringvold and his team had previously studied Illex species laying egg masses in captivity before. They were so determined to find out what species of squid could produce something so unearthly that they posted on Facebook pages for diving clubs in places known to be inhabited by the squid, which spawn in the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean. When a pair of divers off the coast of Sweden finally had a blob encounter, they were equipped with a soda bottle which they were able to squeeze so it would suck some of the tissue off the gelatinous mass. Whatever it was, it bounced back to its spherical shape after that.
After spending a night in the freezer, the bottle went to a lab and was thawed before it was examined any further. It proved to be somewhat difficult to separate the squid eggs found inside from the surrounding mucus. Trying to suck some of the substance into a pipette easily clogged it with slime. While the sample preparations were on their way to Ringvold’s lab, three more enormous egg sacs were found in Norway, with one rapidly falling apart as hatchlings were getting ready to break free. That was something the researchers would find out later.
Now that it was being examined up close, the slimy stuff revealed ellipsoid eggs and tiny, transparent squid embryos that seemed to be from some other planet. Embryos from the four spheres were found to be at just as many different embryonic stages. DNA from the glob and eggs was compared to DNA in tissue from several squid species (one from a Korean fish market) until it was determined to belong to an Illex species, which the scientists had suspected. And I. coindetii was a match.
There was something else particularly strange about some of the blobs. They had a dark stripe around the middle, and what exactly that is for remains a mystery. It is most likely that it was either ink accidentally ejected by the female squid as she laid the eggs, or pigment meant to camouflage the otherwise translucent orb as it bobbed in the open ocean, left unprotected and prone to attacks from hungry predators. It could have also been squid ink that was squirted out purposely for that reason. The stripe appears to be an eel or some other type of elongated fish from far away, and it could be that the eggs are kept safe by this illusion.
“The function of the spheres is protection and transport of the offspring by sea currents for paralarval dispersal. Inside these gelatinous structures, the eggs and newly hatched paralarvae are protected from predation,” Ringvold said.
Cephalopods really can get that weird. No wonder creatures inspired by them end up starring in horror movies.