National Geographic

Scientists Unravel Mystery of Flying Squid

By Valarie Chapman

We have only studied a small portion of the world’s oceans – leaving us plenty of room for surprises.  In one great recent surprise, researchers at Hokkaido University have proven that a species of squid can fly (published in the journal Marine Biology).

There were rumors and witnesses of these flying squid, but until now, nobody had proven how a squid can fly.

flying squid

Flying squid caught on camera. Photo: Hokkaido University

How do these squid go from swimming to flying?  Four phases of flight are described in the research: launching, jetting, gliding and diving.

While swimming, the squid open up their mantle and draw in water.  Then these squid launch themselves into the air with a high-powered blast of the water from their bodies.  Once launched by this jet propulsion, these squid spread out both their fins and their tentacles to form wings.  The squid have a membrane between their tentacles similar to the webbed toes of a frog.  This helps them use their tentacles as a wing and create aerodynamic lift so they can glide – similar to a well-made paper airplane.

These squid glide at up to 11.2 meters per second.  To put that into perspective, Jamaican runner Usain Bolt won the gold medal in the 2012 Summer Olympic Games at 10.31 meters per second.  The squid can remain airborne for about 3 seconds and cover upwards of 30 meters (98 feet) per flight.

While in flight, these squid do not simply glide passively.  They actively change their posture based on their distance from the water and phase of flight.  After gliding above the water, the squid fold their fins and tentacles back in to minimize impact and dive into the ocean.

Groups of over 20 squid have been recorded flying together.  It is believed that they fly to escape predators in the water – a tactic used by the flying fish.  While this is great for avoiding ocean predators, this might make the squid easier prey for new predators such as sea birds.  There is still plenty to learn about these fascinating creatures, but one thing is for certain: We can no longer consider squid to be just creatures of the sea, but now the air as well.


  1. Dony Bland
    United States
    December 11, 2013, 2:50 am

    Um,There is a higher power, I married her some 30 years back, So on to the flying squid,Eh? Capt.Harry Pidgeon wrote of them in 1921 he witnessed them in the Indian ocean, of Rodriguez Island, evading predator He stated , “this is interesting, I do not think it is popularly known”

  2. billy the man
    November 13, 2013, 6:11 pm

    From “whispers in a silent universe” my latest obsession.

    Divine Science

    Humanity still debates it origins,
    Arguments rage between sages and science,
    Both sides locked in defiance.
    Book cases, fragments of bone from far off places,
    Reasonable men hurling accusations,
    Kicking up dust, clouding the conversation.
    Science verses theology,
    All men of faith,
    All men of conviction,
    All claiming truth, and debating fiction.
    What force or forces brought things into being?
    Did matter evolve? Is space nothing?
    Where did space come from,
    This Big Bang, this massive explosion
    That some say happened, sending every universe,
    And all the planets, into their places?
    Some say gravity, some say faith.
    Linear men seek eternal answers,
    Not knowing what gives them weight.
    Infinity, time, and space
    All so much to contemplate.
    Is it design or random fate?
    Maybe matter can use logic to self replicate?
    Maybe God is dirt or evolution is dirty thinking?
    Another round waiter,
    It’s time for some drinking,

  3. Furexa
    Newcastle, Australia
    July 29, 2013, 8:37 pm

    …. A religious and scientific debate on a page about flying squid on National Geographic of all places. Wow, I don’t want to be human anymore XD.

  4. Drksyde72
    United States
    May 28, 2013, 4:43 pm

    How do flying squid open a debate about evolution vs religion? Squid have gone unchanged for millions of years so if they fly now they flew then, we are just now observing it for the first time.

  5. Mel N
    May 21, 2013, 8:13 am

    Evolution is amazing. And the religious need to be thoroughly educated in science.

  6. James
    May 17, 2013, 9:29 am

    Why the hell does everyone have to bitch and argue about god and science. Why can’t they both just exist? Who knows maybe a human EVOLVED into a God sometime in the past?! Either way God or no God, we live on an extroidinary planet full of unexplained beauty and wonder. It doesn’t hurt to believe in God just incase he’s real, but the problem is people PUSH him onto everyone else, and that’s what’s irritating. I think there is a higher being somewhere or there wouldn’t be so many civilizations throughout history praising one. Yet evolution is most definitely real, and I say THE UNIVERSE did a great job with CREATION!!

  7. Bernie Robertson
    May 14, 2013, 6:10 pm

    Hey! Science! So, what Kind of squid is that? It don’t look like Humbolt or Arrow. Be science-ish. Thorough.

  8. Lori Cameron
    May 14, 2013, 11:06 am

    It is amazing to see the works of God’s hands-with all our “intelligence” and high tech toys, we still haven’t seen all that God has made, shared with us…we must take great care of this gift, someday we will be called to account for all that has happened to His creation…

  9. Zwirad
    May 12, 2013, 11:09 am

    Fascinating how they can take TEN tenticles and form them into an airfoil and fly. THAT is real bioengineering! The Canard Wing has been around for millions of years. Millions of years of EVOLUTION crafted such a marvalous flight mechanism!

    May 12, 2013, 7:22 am

    Mention is made of squid landing on the raft Kon Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl. I am sure that National Geographic carried artiles on the expedition (1947) in the late forties or early fifties. I have seen squid “flying” off Durban on several occasions over the years.

  11. alex beechey
    hobart, tasmania, australia
    May 11, 2013, 8:56 am

    could this be something they have learn’t from flying fish? they are known to be fairly intelegent aren’t they?

  12. Miriam English
    May 11, 2013, 1:41 am

    Sad that people can see a complex and truly wondrous thing like flying squid and demote it to being the creation of some supernatural figment of their imagination. Why can’t they be satisfied with how amazing the world really is?

  13. Donald Sepanek
    United States
    May 10, 2013, 2:56 pm

    Proves once and for all that Hare Krishna is the master designer.

  14. Wolfenstein
    May 10, 2013, 6:36 am

    Cthulhu children are preparing for the invasion!

  15. Del
    May 10, 2013, 2:24 am

    My cat caught one that jumped and landed on the deck of our boat, while out on the Pacific about 3 years ago. Although she reported it as “tasty”, it also squirted blue ink all over her face. She was known as “Bluebeard the Pirate” for the rest of the trip. I still get a laugh out of that.

  16. Melissa Henry
    Hampton, VA, USA
    May 10, 2013, 1:34 am

    A closed mind cannot create or discover. A true spirit of inquiery means being open to every possibility. I, too, dismissed a ‘higher power’ than man until I was reminded to keep my mind open. We are abe to study and research many forms energy now, but for most of human history we lived in ignorance. I accept that the time may come when science will prove that there is a ‘god’.

  17. Kai Johnson
    May 9, 2013, 10:29 pm

    Praise be to the mighty Poseidon, Lord of the sea!

  18. Margaret Park
    Memphis, TN 38117
    May 9, 2013, 10:05 pm

    All living things evolve to meet their needs. And that is why evolution is true. Those squids were not flying 500 years ago very likely. And then there is the fact, that it just takes one to try it and if success is met, everyone goes for it. That was probably God’s original plan.

  19. Guildenstern
    May 9, 2013, 5:37 pm

    It’s amazing how the earth’s creatures naturally evolve with so many unexpected abilities.

  20. Daar
    May 9, 2013, 5:26 pm

    This is totally fake.

  21. Strainer
    May 9, 2013, 5:00 pm

    No! I claim these squid for the one true god, the Flying Spaghetti Monster! Yarrr…

  22. Derk Nuggleston
    Upstate NY
    May 9, 2013, 4:58 pm

    I’m pretty sure Super Mario Bros knew about flying squid for decades.

  23. JVekesh
    Trinidad & Tobago, W.I
    May 9, 2013, 4:56 pm

    People.. Please don’t reduce these wonders of nature to an act of god/allah.. These squid’s ancestors went through millions of years of various evolutionary pressures to reach where they are now. This is NatGeo, they report on science not fairy tales..

  24. Ian
    New Zealand
    May 9, 2013, 4:32 pm

    Any Youtube footage available? I’d love to show this to my kids (and see it for myself)…

  25. Auric
    May 9, 2013, 4:30 pm

    One word: EVOLUTION… Get use to it… No higher “being” helped with this animal’s tactic to survive from its predators…

  26. God
    May 9, 2013, 4:24 pm

    I didn’t do it.

  27. vincent
    May 9, 2013, 4:24 pm

    Need. Video. Now.

  28. the big test
    May 9, 2013, 4:20 pm

    so if god created life on earth, and he told Noah to collect all of his creations on an Arch.. shouldn’t there be a complete list of everything living on this planet? Therefore fascinating discoveries could be used to debunk the whole believe or die fiction they’re lying to little kids about. And the whole argument could be solved.

  29. Kristine Faloon
    Bora Bora, French Polynesia
    May 9, 2013, 4:20 pm

    We’ve repeated found dead squid in the morning on the deck of the school ship Argo, thinking the only possible way for them to arrive was through the air. Happy to see that our suspicions have been confirmed!

  30. Alvin Abalos
    Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
    May 9, 2013, 4:16 pm

    wow, that was totally amazing.. :)

  31. Oh please
    May 9, 2013, 4:16 pm

    Seriously, can’t we have a thread without the discussion of “god”?

    Look up evolution and shut up.

  32. Nottaking Thingsseriously
    A tiny barrel in the wilderness
    March 21, 2013, 7:40 am

    “I discovered something slimy sitting in my lap.”

    Okay Tui, how do I put this…….

  33. Perk Perkins
    United States
    March 3, 2013, 12:22 am

    I’ve seen flying squid many times in the Caribbean. Usually when I am skimming fast in my skiff. Have nearly been hit by them a few times. I wonder if they are the same species of if many species of squid can fly.

  34. Charles umagu
    February 26, 2013, 12:38 pm

    God is a supernatural Being

  35. Jessica Armstrong
    Maryland, USA
    February 25, 2013, 4:21 pm

    The flying squids are really cool! I never heard this before and am glad to see such a great picture of this.

  36. Givemeabreak
    February 23, 2013, 12:45 pm

    The only thing more amazing than flying squid is the fact that in the 21st century there are still people who believe in silly fairy tales like god.

  37. Tui Allen
    New Zealand
    February 22, 2013, 3:00 pm

    I remember sailing along in the middle of the South Pacific at night sitting at the tiller in the cockpit of our little wooden boat. I discovered something slimy sitting in my lap. It was a squid. I presumed ever after that everyone knew they could fly. I’d also found flying fish lying in the cockpit. Everyone knew about them!

  38. Wayne
    February 21, 2013, 7:20 pm

    God didn’t make anything !

  39. khaled
    February 21, 2013, 3:45 pm

    It is the first time I hear about these flying squids… Its the perfect creation of ALLAH.

  40. Mike Stephens
    San Diego, CA.
    February 21, 2013, 10:33 am

    While on a surf to Western Samoa almost exactly 4 years ago, I had a flying squid experience. My brother and I were being shuttled with our boards out to the reef pass about a mile off shore when it happened! Naturally, we were both facing forward when we noticed a missle like object break the surface of the water off the port bow of the small shuttle boat. The object, which turned out to be a small (10″ long approx.) squid, hit the bow and in the process of soaring over the boat about 3′ over us, opened up like a parachute. The most striking part of all of this where the amazing colors it manifested while flying by. Electric purples, reds and blues were pulsating through the body of the animal like a blue marlin, angry at being hooked. We have since of course told the story to a few people and were generally met with skepticism. We are now vindicated….thank you! Viva El Calamari Volante!

  41. Royce De la Cruz Jr.
    Manila, Philippines
    February 21, 2013, 6:38 am

    Wow! I grew up with flying fish all over me when I went swimming in the sea by our house in Cadiz City, Negros Occidental here in the Philippines. But flying squid?! :) It is amazing to see how God truly made this world a wonder and a marvel for generations to come! :)