From ostrich-human courtship to squid possible gigantic-ness

Charles Paxton, the University of St. Andrews professor who shared the 2002 Ig Nobel biology prize for study called “Courtship Behaviour of Ostriches Towards Humans Under Farming Conditions in Britain” (published in British Poultry Science, vol. 39, no. 4, September 1998, pp. 477-481) has a new study out, about giant squid.

The new study seems to have enraged certain persons (see below).

The study is: “Unleashing the Kraken: on the maximum length in giant squid (Architeuthis sp.),” Charles G.M. Paxton, Journal of Zoology, epub 17 May 2016. Here’s what it says:

Giant squid are among the largest invertebrates known, but a consensus on their maximum size is lacking. Statistical investigation of various measures of body length and beak size in Architeuthis suggests that squid of at least 2.69 m (99.9% prediction interval: 1.60–3.83 m) mantle length (ML) may be handled by large bull sperm whales but perhaps not females. Given the relationship of squid ML to standard (from tip of mantle to end of arms) and total (from tip of mantle to end of tentacles) length, the observed spread of individual lengths, along with a longest reliably measured ML of 2.79 m, purported squid of 10 m standard length and even 20 m total length are eminently plausible.


Michael Greshko writes, for National Geographic, about the study and the varied reactions to it:

Giant Squid Could Be Bigger Than a School Bus

The deep-dwelling creatures could reach lengths of at least 66 feet, says a provocative new study—but not everyone is convinced….

Paxton’s results, published on May 17 in the Journal of Zoology, have released a kraken of controversy: At present, there’s no physical evidence that the giant squid (Architeuthis dux) actually gets as large as Paxton is claiming, leading some to doubt the study’s real-world relevance. (See National Geographic’s squid pictures.)

“This paper will certainly boost his citation indices, but probably for all the wrong reasons,” wrote giant squid expert Steve O’Shea, who wasn’t involved with the study….

Rebecca Goldin, a professor of mathematics at George Mason University and director of, finds Paxton’s statistical arguments to be sound, though recommends caution in applying the results.

“My takeaway is that the author has a point: The variability is high enough that whales may have eaten larger squid than so far found,” Goldin, who wasn’t involved with the study, said by email.

BONUS: Charles Paxton’s discoveries are wide-ranging. A few years ago, he published a study pointing out that one celebrated historical account of a “sea monster” may have been a misunderstanding on the part of the observer. What the observer saw was (the study explains) most likely a whale’s erect penis.