Friday, 11 April 2014

Red devil









Supplementary material

The fiendish-looking mollusc on the right is a Humboldt squid (Dosidicus gigas), also known as the red devil. It is a mean predator; swift, intelligent, curious, aggressive at times, and known on occasion to try yanking the mask and gear off scuba divers. A fascinating animal, no doubt, but not one I'd like to tangle with underwater.

Although its 5-foot length makes it a big bruiser, the Humboldt squid is not a giant squid (Architeuthis dux) nor a colossal squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni), both much larger, much heavier, and much less frequently seen.

Like most cephalopods, squids can project a cloud of ink from their anus to help them cover their escape from a predator. Therefore when a squid farts in an elevator, it can't pretend it didn't do it. He might as well have signed the deed.

The cuttlefish on the left also produces its own ink, which is sometimes used to colour pasta or rice in Spanish, Basque and Italian cuisine. The cuttlefish is however probably better known for its cuttlebone, which is no bone at all (since the animal is a mollusc). The cuttlebone is actually an internal calcium carbonate structure that, filled with gas, helps control the animal's buoyancy. Cuttlebones are omnipresent in bird cages, where they give the birds something to try their beak on and gives them plenty of calcium.

As for the contract that our ill-advised young cuttlefish is about to sign, it is of course a reference to the old German legend of Doctor Faust, a man who made a deal with the devil to gain knowledge, youth and plenty of sensual pleasure. The story's take-home message is that one should not favour earthly happiness over celestial rewards, since the latter are so superior in all ways (insofar as they exist at all, which has yet to be demonstrated in any way. Of course, meeting the devil face to face might have an effect on one's theological views).

The Faust legend has been adapted many times in literature, music, theater and the cinema. We really must mention Christopher Marlowe's late XVI century The Tragicall History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus, Goethe's early XIX century Faust: eine tragödie and Gounod's opera Faust, which gave Bianca Castafiore (the only recurring female character in the Adventures of Tintin series) the famous Jewel song.

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