Motion in the Ocean
The six secrets of squid sex.
3. Guard males: Trade romance for constant vigilance.
Spawning season is not the time to get wrapped up in the moment. It's not enough just to slide spermatophores under her mantle. Guard males have to fight off other males—while hanging on to their lady like a rodeo rider. To scare off the competition (and impress their mate), guard males use their color-changing abilities to turn their tentacles bright cherry red.
Want to see how the big boys do it? Click here to see this strapping squid fight off a sneaker male (0:03 and 0:25) and pass a spermatophore to his mate (0:15). But she's just not that into him, and her whole body turns angry red before kicking him out.
4. Sneaker males: Go for speed over style.
Squids on the smaller side can't hang on to their own females, so they go for speed. They've got two windows of opportunity—the threesome and the egg drop. For the threesome, they dart in while the guard male and the female are in the act, slip a spermatophore under her mantle, and jet away as fast as they can. For the egg drop, they wait until the female is laying her long, oval egg capsules, and dart in to slip some spermatophores into her seminal receptacle in hopes that she'll decide to use it to fertilize some of her eggs. Though neither of these strategies is as good as being one of the muscle boys—at best, sneaker males fertilize 9 percent of the eggs—half a spawn is better than none.
Check out some threesome action here. This sneaker male hangs on for an epic 10-second ride. Those white tubes on the bottom are the end goal of all the squid debauchery—fertilized egg capsules.
5. Don't forget to cuddle.
Not only is it rude to fall asleep after sex, it's potentially dire. Even if a guard male has successfully hung on to his lady, he can be cuckolded by a sneaker male at the last moment. So guard males spoon their mates during the hourslong process of laying an egg capsule and pumping it full of embryos. Once she's glued the egg capsule to the sand, the guard males can roll over and swim away in search of their next paramour.
6. Go gently into that good night.
Après sex, all the squids are dead. Sure, they might have the energy for one or two more rounds, but they're not eating and perish from exhaustion after a few weeks. Most cephalopods—squid, octopus, and cuttlefish—live fast and die young after just one season of righteous action. But it's the natural way of things, and in about a month, millions of minuscule squid will hatch out the egg capsules. They'll go about their short lives, hunting and hiding and ultimately expiring during next year's Valentine's Day orgy.