Velcro Squid


The ancestors of the Velcro Squid evolved to feed on the lifeforms that congregate round hydrothermal vents. The vents are populated by various chemosynthetic algae and "plants" that utilise hydrogen sulphide. These would be grazed on by herbivores. The ancestral Velcro Squid in turn preyed on these.

It moved by jet propulsion, and had two rings of tentacles, one at the rear and one just before the apex. These are multifunctional: They can be used to grab or manipulate things (e.g. catching prey). They can clumped together to form a "fin" the way cuttlefish do with some of their tentacles, thus helping the Velcro Squid to steer, avoid pitch, yaw and roll, etc.

[A thought - we didn't discuss this in the workshops, but if the Velcro Squid is covered in the scales/Velcro hooklets, then these could also be used to hook or unhook the tentacles together, the way barbs and barbules in feathers work. Ignore this if you don't want stuff that wasn't thrashed out at the con.]

It was also suggested that it had some sort of swim bladder or gas chamber to adjust its buoyancy and aid in vertical migrations.

Dan suggested that because there are a lot of morphological similarities between the Velcro Squid and the Gasbags, they might have had a common ancestor.

Because it is dark down at the deep water vents even in summer (apart from some very low level electrochemical light), then the Velcro Squid ancestors had no eyes. They instead had:

Their communication system is a development of the echolocation - use high frequencies for "seeing" things and low frequencies for long distance communication (the lower ones don't attenuate as fast). [Of course, they don't need whale type very long distance "singing" until they evolve the need to chat to the other Velcro Squid community fifty miles away at the next vent.]

The vents are like oases in the desert - lots of resources in a clump. The ancestral Velcro Squids lived in small packs or shoals that claim all or part of a "biome" round a vent and defend it from other packs. When the vent started to cool down, or the population got too high for local resources, some or all of the Velcro Squid would migrate in search of another vent.

They detect the presence of new vents by smell. Oceanographers do it by detecting helium plumes in the seawater, because this is unique to vents/underwater volcanism. We weren't sure if you could "smell" helium, as it is so inert. If it's not biologically feasible to detect helium, then there are plenty of other chemical signatures to follow. You might therefore be able to smell the difference between a black smoker, a white smoker and a warm water vent.

The ancestral Velcro Squids had tentacles with hooks not suckers. These hooks were much like those on real ancestral squid and some modern ones (i.e. for grabbing soft-bodied prey), with a few exceptions: They were retractable. We therefore have all sorts of later possibilities for opposable claws. Decide how far down your tentacle it would be useful to have you "thumb" and extend the claws at that point! They later evolved into a flat sucker (good for grasping hard surfaces and feeling textures) with the claw extendable from the middle (Dan invented this, so might have thought of more details).

The tentacles start to differentiate into different forms for different purposes. This includes tentacles for passing sperm and eggs to a partner by "shaking hands" (again ask Dan for more details).

The skin of the Velcro Squid was originally like shark skin, with lots of tiny spiky scales all over it. Over time the scales become more developed. They can be erected or flattened against the body, so the animal can be streamlined or be spiky like a puffer fish as the need arises.

The babies hang onto the adults by using their tiny tentacle hooks to latch onto the adults' scales. Hence the name Velcro Squids.

One or more larger adult will act as "babysitter" with lots of babies clinging to it. The other adults will protect and guard this babysitter. We never did decide if this babysitter was a always of one sex or another (I don't know who was discussing reproduction on day 3), but suggested that the babies might be unrelated or all be half-siblings.

Early Evolution

The ancestral Velcro Squids first of all lived at the vents full time. Then they evolved a strategy for feeding up in the photic zone in summer (we didn't decide if this was a full time or migration or a series of forays as and when they felt like a snack), and retreating to the vents in winter.

As the vents got sparser and sparser thru geological time, the Velcro Squids headed into freshwater in search of land based vents (of the Yellowstone National Park variety). Although still semi-aquatic, their reliance on vents gradually declined and they developed the ability to hibernate. They would dig an underwater burrow, climb in to it, secrete a shell around themselves and go to sleep. Someone (sorry can't remember his name - curly-ish fair hair, green sweatshirt) suggested that this shell could perhaps be Goth-Bear proof, by reducing/eliminating the electrosensory signal of the Velcro Squid.

Smitty and Judith suggested that if they primitive Velcro Squids can secrete a shell, the civilised ones might be able to secrete tools.

More Morphology Stuff

As the Velcro Squids moved into shallow water and onto land, then eyes become very useful things to have. So they evolved first two parallel rows of simple eyespots (also for detecting the low light round vents???), then developed the topmost pair further until they had a set of stalked eyes.

On land, sound is used for communication, not navigation. Underwater it is used for both.

On land, vision is used for both communication and navigation. Underwater, communication has taken priority. The Velcro Squids developed bioluminescence for social signalling and attracting a mate. Lots of waving the tentacles about and flashing spots and blotches of light at each other. (The only creatures to invent Las Vegas before they invent the wheel.) Smitty and Judith talked this through, so they'll have more details.

Dan suggested that the primitive eyespots were covered with transparent scales to protect them. It would seem reasonable that the bioluminescent patches have the same protection.

On land they also further develop the pressure sensor and chemosensory tentacles into a pair of fringed antennae that can do the same job in air. These can detect air currents, smell stuff, etc.

Locomotion - they can still swim, but are not as agile as their ancestors were in water. On land they sit up and walk on the rearmost ring of tentacles (the reproductive tentacles are also down here somewhere). A combination of hydrostatic skeleton (elephant trunk style) and support from the claws or scales (not an exoskeleton as such, more the way crocodile scutes link together to give extra support to the back when it walks). [This is probably the bit that needs most work from Del and whoever was doing biomechanics on day 3].

Size - about the size of a fox when fully adult.

Lifespan - 10 to 20 years.

Diet - originally they were pure carnivores. However, once they are on land they might tend to go omnivore a bit, making use of high energy foods like fruit and nuts. I don't think anyone suggested that they could ever eat low grade plant stuffs like leaves, grass, etc.

Territoriality/attitude/outlook - was discussed in session 4 by the group that did it on day 3.


Once the volcanic-vent-dwelling squids were voted Top Alien, Graham Taylor and I discussed their outlook on life, attitudes and psychology. We discussed this entirely on the basis of them continuing to be volcanic-vent dwellers, unfortunately, so we didn't take into account what would happen once they left the vents and tried moving on to the land. But we felt that the psychology acquired during their vent-dwelling stage would inform their evolutionary descendents in much the same way that we still have some monkey instincts lurking about.

The squids, we decided, see the world as a thing which gives them gifts. They live on a volcanic vent, which pumps out a constant stream of valuable chemicals and minerals and life-giving heat; and when other life forms wander into their range they see them in much the same way: collections of useful chemicals, minerals and energy thoughtfully provided by the universe for their use. And they use them without hesitation, up to and including _predators_ which happen to wander near the vent. This is a species which would welcome a Trojan Horse attack: they'd cart the horse into the city and cheerfully start sawing it up for firewood and spare parts, and the fact that they'd need a load of soldiers standing by as well for when the Greeks emerged would be considered a small inconvenience which didn't really detract from the desirability of the gift. (Indeed, they'd probably eat the Greeks and keep their weapons.)

Of course, you want genetic exchange between the squids living on different vents; so when other _squids_ show up at your vent, you probably don't treat them quite that harshly. But you don't quite trust them either; there's always a chance the earnest new settler might up and leave in the middle of the night, go and tell his mates you've got a largely undefended vent, and return with a raiding party. So you're suspicious of newcomers until they've settled down and proved themselves (perhaps starting a family is adequate proof). Following on from this theme, we envisaged many of the young from a given vent being sent off as explorers to find other vents and settle there, and a fair few young from other vents arriving in exchange. (Of course, if any of your own explorers come _back_ with news of an uninhabited new vent, you quickly send a load more and settle it; but if they find already-inhabited vents, they'll probably join the existing communities there.)

Speaking of raiding parties, these creatures are very territorial. A volcanic vent is pretty small compared to a whole continent or ocean, so there's not a lot of territory to go round. There _will_ be raiding parties sent to other vents from time to time, which is why they're always so suspicious of newcomers which might be scouts. Anyone who arrives, settles down and makes a home is made welcome (eventually), but anyone who tries to leave again is fair game and will probably be killed and eaten rather than let them get away.

We further conjectured that trade might develop between vents with different available resources (high concentrations of particular useful minerals, for example), and that this might give rise to supercommunities of several cooperating vents which would find it in all their interests to have some sort of mutual defence arrangement. But on reflection, this level of civilisation and society seemed more likely to happen _after_ they'd left the vents and ventured out into the big wide world.

Random Other Stuff

Our photic zone is very, very shallow! In Earth's oceans: