The Colossal Squid 

Colossal Squid

The Colossal Squid

Ma te whakaaro nui e hanga te whare;
Ma tematauranga e whakau

Big ideas create the house;
Knowledge maintains it

Curriculum links

Learning areas

Learning about the colossal squid fits into many parts of both Primary and Secondary School curricula. The dominant learning area is science.

What strands will it fit with?

The Living World
Nature of Science

Key competencies

Participation and Contribution – Students are encouraged to work with their peers, and make connections as they learn about the exhibition.
Thinking – Students will be able to find out more about the colossal squid by using their knowledge and intuition, and by asking questions. Studying the squid is a great way of encouraging intellectual curiosity!

Level of achievement


Year group


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What topics of study can it support?

  • Sea creatures
  • Adaptations
  • Environmental programmes
  • Vertebrates and invertebrates

How long may this take? 

Ten minutes or more

Where do I find the colossal squid?

The colossal squid is displayed at the end of the Mountains to Sea exhibition, next to the entrance to NatureSpace. Level 2.

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Why should I take my class to see it?

  • It is the only colossal squid on display in the world
  • They will see the biggest eyeball ever discovered
  • They will see the unique array of hooks and suckers the squid uses to capture its prey
  • The squid has received worldwide attention since it was caught – it is Te Papa’s biggest celebrity!
  • It will capture students’ attention, while introducing them to ideas about the environment
  • It is a fun way to increase their intellectual curiosity

What is there to do there?

  • See the surrounding ocean life exhibitions
  • Visit the 3D theatre to see the deep-sea world where the colossal squid lives
  • Gain knowledge about the world’s largest squid, through reading and observation

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What should I know about this?

  • In February 2007 the colossal squid was caught accidentally by the boat San Aspiring, which was fishing for toothfish in the Southern Ocean.
  • The Ministry of Fisheries gifted the squid to Te Papa on 20 May 2007.
  • It took three days to thaw the squid so it could be  studied by an international team of scientists.
  • Their exploration was beamed by webcam to more than 450,000 viewers around the world.
  • The colossal squid is the biggest invertebrate on the planet.
  • Te Papa’s colossal squid is female.
  • Its eyes are the largest of any known animal − the size of soccer balls. The squid has light organs (built-in searchlights) on either side of its eyeballs, making it well-equipped to hunt the dark ocean depths. While most squid’s eyes face to the side, the colossal squid’s eyes face forwards, allowing it to judge distances when hunting its prey. Each eye has a lens the size of an orange.
  • The colossal squid shoots out its tentacles to snatch its prey. The end of each tentacle is enlarged, forming a ‘club’ lined with two rows of rotating hooks. The harder the prey struggles, the deeper the hooks twist into its flesh.
  • After making a catch with its tentacles, the squid pulls its prey into its eight outstretched arms. These have an arsenal of hooks and serrated suckers. The arms close around the struggling prey, and move it towards the squid’s mouth. Holding its prey tight, the squid nibbles it into tiny pieces, using its sharp beak, which is like an inverted parrot’s beak. The beak is strong, but the squid can only take small mouthfuls. Its narrow throat passes through the middle of its brain, so a bite too big could cause brain damage!
  • The colossal squid’s enormous round mantle fits over its insides like a bag. The mantle is a bit like a round, heavy, blobby jelly.  Really it’s a huge slab of muscle coated in a gelatinous skin. On the skin are chromatophores – cells filled with pigment. If you cut the mantle up, you would get squid rings the size of truck tyres!
  • The colossal squid swims forward by rippling its muscular, paired fin. It can also move backwards by shooting water from its funnel. To hover in one place, which it often does, it uses a well-coordinated combination of fin movement and funnel action.

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Possible questions for discussion

  • What are some of the colossal squid’s unique features that allow it to survive in the deep?
  • Should the squid have been kept, or thrown back into the ocean?What positives and negatives are there for each option?
  • What might some of the colossal squid’s prey and predators be?
  • Does it look like any other creatures you have seen?
  • How do you think the colossal squid moves through the water?
  • How can we look after our oceans and the creatures that live there?
  • What does it mean to be a kaitiaki?
  • How can Māori knowledge of creation help us to understand the ocean?
  • What are the stages in the life cycle of a colossal squid?
  • How do scientists find out about the colossal squid?
  • How do we know that their information is correct?
  • Does the colossal squid have an ancestor?  What is it, and how do we know?
  • What impact might humans have on the colossal squid?

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Further information

Related objects and exhibition spaces

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