Book of the Week: Die Cephalopoden

This week we are celebrating cephlapods. Not sure what they are? Cephalopods are a group of exclusively marine mollusks that include squid, octopus and nautilus. They are closely related to snails, slugs and clams. Let’s be honest, you might be most familiar with them on your plate.

These intelligent but vulnerable invertebrates are fascinating. They are represented in fossil records as long ago as 500 million years. If I had to pick, I’d say squids are my favorite 8-legged species, and not just because this is Squidturday. Squids defend themselves by being agile and fast as well as releasing sepia, often referred to as ink. The sepia creates a smokescreen providing the squid to make a get away. Camouflage is another defense mechanism. They cannot only change the color of their skin but the shape and texture to reflect their surroundings. This is possible through pigment cells on their arms called chromatophores. It doesn’t stop there, certain species can fly out of the water for short distances.

The most well known species of squid popularized in book like Homer’s Odyssey and Jules Verne’s 20,000 leagues Under the Sea is the Giant or Colossal Squid. Not much is known about this squid because it is so rare to find. However, it is known that they live in the deep Atlantic Ocean and can bite with their sharp beaks. Their only predator is the sperm whale. They can reach lengths of up to 60 feet and weight as much as 1,000 pounds. Imagine looking into the soccer ball sized eyes of one of these invertebrates. Scary!

Little was known about these creatures in the 1900s. So Carl Chun, a well known German marine biologist with a specialty in cephalopods and plankton, led the German expedition aboard the steamboat Valdivia in 1898 to explore the deep sea. He was among a growing fraction of scientist who believed that there was life in the deep sea. Lasting just a year, the trip explored the West Coast of South Africa, the Gulf of Guinea, the Antarctic Sea, and a large portion of the Indian Ocean and collected as many biological samples as possible. The results of the expedition lead to 24 volumes titled Ergebnisse der Deutschen Tiefsee-Expedition auf dem Dampfer “Valdivia” 1898-1899″ (Scientific results of the German deep-sea expedition on the steamer “Valdivia” 1898-1899) which Die Cephalopoden is apart of.

BHL’s copy of Die Cephalopoden provides much more information on cephalopods and squid. If you don’t sprechen deutsch, check out the English translation. From this expedition, Chun discovered and named a new species of squid, the vampire squid. Its species name, Vampyroteuthis infernalis, means “vampire squid from hell.”

To learn more about the Valdivia expedition, check out the BHL blog post Book of the Week: The Valdivia Expedition.

And if you want to see more beautiful illustrations from Chun’s Die Cephalopoden check out the BHL Flickr set.

Ferris, Jabr. (2 August 2010). Fact or Fiction: Can a a Squid Fly out of the Water? Scientific American. Retrieved from≻=WR_20100804

Robey, Jason. (25 January 2013). Giant Squid Facts. Top 10 Startling Giant Squid Facts. Discovery. Retrieved from

Rodolfo. (19 June 2010). Basic Facts about Cephlapods. OBIS, Ocean Biographic Information System.  retrieved from

Unknown. (n.d.) Cephalopod DayRetrieved from

Watson, Stephanie. (1 June 2007). How Squid Retrieved from

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Kai Alexis Smith served as a Virtual Marketing Intern for the Biodiversity Heritage Library in Fall 2013.