It changed color right in my hand. It was a magical and unexpected moment. I was tide pooling with my girls at Potts Point a few years ago when one of them scooped up a rare treasure and asked me what it was. It was so small that I wasn’t sure at first. Then it appeared to disappear. I was more perplexed at first, but then realized that what we had caught was a baby squid. Squid aren’t particularly rare in Maine, but it isn’t everyday that you find one in the intertidal.

We have two types of squid in Maine – the longfin squid (Doryteuthis pealei) is the big one. It can be up to 24 inches long and is sold as calamari. The shortfin squid (Ilex illecebrosus) is only 8-10 inches long and more often used as bait. Both species typically swim in schools that spend most of their time in the open ocean. There are commercial squid fishing boats that use mesh trawls to catch squid, but most of that fishery is in Southern New England.

Fishing for certain species can be problematic when too many are taken from the population before they can reproduce. Squid, however, are fast reproducers, releasing a new batch of eggs every six months or so. If you are super lucky, you might find what looks like a rubber glove filled with jelly along the shore. During the pandemic, in particular, it might be a relief to know that this isn’t just another rubber glove. The big clue is that these gloves often have up to a dozen fingers, each filled with 50-100 tiny squid embryos. Sometimes, around the full moon, you can find them hidden under ledges.

Perhaps easier than finding squid eggs or finding one in a tide pool is to jig for them.

In the spring, when the water warms, they find their way into shallower bays in Maine. You can fish for them during the day, but often anglers prefer to seek them out at night. Squid have big eyes for seeing in the dark, which also means they are attracted to light. So, shining a light into the water can attract them. They can also be found near piers or bridges that are lit up at night. A simple squid jig looks like a little fish wearing a skirt of upturned hooks. The motion of it attracts the squid that then wraps its tentacles around the hook and can be pulled up.

Not to be forgotten, however, is one of the distinguishing features of a squid – that it squirts ink when startled . . . like when it is pulled up on a hook out of the water. Better to let it drip that ink out over the water before pulling it onto a dock or the deck of a boat! This ink is an amazing adaptation that it shares with its relative, the octopus, and helps it to escape its many predators including sea birds, large fish and seals. The ink is also fun to play around with if you catch one with an intact ink sac. Squid are invertebrates, which means they don’t have any bones. But, if you cut along the back of the squid’s body, you can pull out a clear, stiff part called a “pen” that gives its body some support. If you dip it in the squid’s ink, you have a natural pen and ink.

It is also important to beware of the squid’s sharp beak. It is bizarrely similar to a bird’s beak and is used to crunch through the shells of its prey – or your finger. This beak is at the center of its “head”. The squid wraps its tentacles around

unsuspecting crustaceans, crushes it with its beak, and then digests the remains. This all takes place in its giant head for which it is named – “cephalopod” means head foot, a perfect description for a creature that has feet coming out of its head.

Finally, to get back to how I first almost didn’t see this delicate creature in my hand, their ability to camouflage is extraordinary. They have specialized cells in their skin called chromatophores that they essentially use like a camera lens, closing them down to produce less color and opening them up to make more color. They can even use them to create patterns and some deep-water squid can also produce light.

And, at the end of the day, they are delicious to eat. They aren’t always the easiest to find, but perhaps if you’re lucky enough to hook one, you can give it a try.

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