Squid Empire: The Rise and Fall of the Cephalopods


By Danna Staaf

If you, like me, spend much of your palaeontological time collecting Jurassic and Cretaceous cephalopods in the south of the UK (ammonites, belemnites, nautiluses and the like), while dabbling with some Silurian orthocones in Shropshire, you will be delighted at the number of books being published recently about this fascinating group of animals.

Even if you are not, it is clear that the relatively recent books, Heteromorph and Nautilus, by Wolfgang Grulke represented an excellent start and, while being something of a misnomer, Squid Empire is an excellent addition, with a light touch, that presents a welcome discussion of the geological and natural history of cephalopds.

Rather than just focussing on squid, as its name implies, Squid Empire covers all cephalopods from their first emergence in the deep geological past. At this time, they dominated the seas as the earth’s first substantial animals (as both predators and herbivores), until fish with jaws usurped their position as top dogs.

It also explains the emergence of ammonites and belemnites, along with the reasons for their eventual disappearance, along with plenty of other organisms, at the end-Cretaceous extinction (with a group of belemnites possibly surviving and evolving into squid, according to some scientists). Th book also covers cephalopods’ more recent history, in the form of the surviving nautiluses, squid, octopuses, cuttlefish and so on.

And the final chapter deals with where these wonderful marine animals may be going and whether they will survive the latest mass extinction currently being caused by human activity. For example, it appears that nautiluses are on the brink of an evolutionary adaptive radiation, at the same time as humans are threatening their very existence by overfishing for their lovely shells. This is at the same time as other squid are thriving due to the overfishing of their fish predators.

This is an excellent little book, which I highly recommend.

The author gained a PhD in invertebrate biology from Stanford University and wrote Squid a Day for the blog, Science 2.0 (http://www.science20.com/squid_day/blog/squid_day_illuminated_site-79709).

Squid Empire: The Rise and Fall of the Cephalopods, by Danna Staaf, ForeEdge, New England (2017), 237 pages, (paperback), ISBN: 978-16-11689-23-5

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