The following is adapted from Nicole Walker's Egg, now available from Bloomsbury's Object Lessons series.
If you were just watching male squid in the ocean tentacling around the ocean floor, punching his fellow male squid in the face, seemingly randomly, you’d think squid were overreacting. But squid are not truculent creatures. They only become obstreperous when they swim over a deposit of egg capsules. Female squid lay egg capsules containing 150-200 eggs. She will mate with many, which is why so many male squid are lying around. But when they’re not mating, just jetting along and they come across a capsule, they are pugilistic. Scientists have discovered the eggs themselves give off a pheromone that triggers the males to act like jealous boyfriends. But unlike jealous boyfriends who often storm off in a snit, these squid, once they’ve pounded the competing male into submission, turn to hug the eggs, protecting them, keeping the other male from claiming their his even if these eggs are really some other male squid’s entirely.
Researchers suspect that squid will probably fare well with a slight rise in climate temperatures due to global warming. Squid process their food more quickly in warmer waters. They also grow faster and bigger. Research has not connected aggressive male behavior with temperature, but they do worry about food sources—both that the squid may run out of food sources if the female lays more eggs, if eggs go on to lower juvenile motility and that the eggs and the juveniles may become more a food source as the food sources of the ocean become scarcer.
Can we picture this future so we can sleep better at night? Giant squid, digesting happily, hugging their eggs, protecting their future in the warm baths of an acidic ocean. Or should we pray for them to become delicious treats for the whales who will be hungrier and hungrier as herring and sardines become smaller and smaller. Or should we be worried about aggressive, jealous boyfriend squid, punching hungry humans in the face as we scrape the bottom of oceans, looking for the all-that’s-left-to-eat squid eggs? Somehow, I’m rooting for the egg cuddlers. Humans are not as careful with the fragile as they should be.
Nicole Walker is Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, USA. Her previous books include Canning Peaches for the Apocalypse (2017), Bending Genre: Essays on Creative Nonfiction (co-edited with Margot Singer, Bloomsbury, 2013), and Quench Your Thirst With Salt, winner of the 2011 Zone 3 nonfiction prize. Her work has appeared in Fence, the Iowa Review, Fourth Genre, Shenandoah, New American Writing, the Seneca Review, Ploughshares, and elsewhere. She has been granted a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry.