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Helicocranchia Massy, 1907

Piglet squid

Richard E. Young and Katharina M. Mangold (1922-2003)

Helicocranchia contains three recognized species. Voss, et al. (1992), however, suggest that as many as 14 species may exist.

Containing group: Taoniinae


Species of Helicocranchia are small, oceanic squid (100 mm ML) characterized by having a very large funnel and small paddle-like fins that attach to a portion of the gladius that rises above the muscular mantle. They exhibit a gradual ontogenetic descent from near-surface waters as paralarvae to lower mesopelagic depths as near-adults.


A taoniin...


  1. Tentacles
    1. Clubs with suckers only.
    2. Tentacular stalks with two series of suckers and pads nearly to stalk base.
  2. Funnel
    1. Funnel valve absent.
    2. Funnel organ: Dorsal pad with 3 slender papillae.
    3. Funnel extremely large.
    4. Figure. Anterior view of H. pfefferi, Southern Californian waters showing the large funnel and small arms. Photograph by Donald Bright.

  3. Mantle
    1. Tubercles absent from funnel-mantle fusion.
  4. Fins
    1. Fins paddle shaped.
    2. Fins insert on short rostrum of gladius which projects dorsally in advance of mantle apex (photograph below).*

      Figure. Dorsolateral view of mantle tip and fins (damaged) of H. pfefferi, Hawaiian waters. Photograph by R. Young.

  5. Photophores
    1. Single ocular photophore. (Difficult to detect in some species.)
    2. Arm-tip photophores absent.

      Figure. Left - Posterior and lateral views of the ocular photophore of H. papillata, 60 mm ML. Drawings from Voss, 1980, p. 383. Right - Ventral view of an eye of H. pfefferi showing the yellowish ocular photophore on the medial face of the eye, 35 mm ML. Photographed aboard the R/V G. O. SARS, Mar-Eco cruise, central North Atlantic by R. Young.

*Unique in family.


One of the most distinctive features of this genus is the extremely large funnel that extends well beyond the beaks. This feature, which recalls the large snout of a pig, gives the squid its common name. Characteristics are from Voss (1980).

Life History

The large funnel is present in the paralarva and makes generic identification of paralarvae easy. There is a near absence of an optic stalk making the eyes nearly sessile.

Figure. Dorsal and ventral views of a paralarva of H. pfefferi, 3.4 mm ML, Hawaiian waters. Drawings by R. Young. The scale bar is 1 mm.

With increased age and depth of occurrance, some species, at least, become bright red in color.

Figure. Side view of H. pfefferi, central North Atlantic, 63 mm ML. Photographed aboard the MarEco cruise of the R/V G.O. SARS by R. Young.


Vertical distribution

The distribution of Helicocranchia pfefferi from Hawaiian waters is shown on the right. There is a clear pattern of ontogenetic descent with squid occurring in progressively deeper water as they get larger. Diel vertical migration does not seem to occur in this species. The dominance of nighttime captures for young stages is a result of the low sampling effort in shallow depths during the daytime and doesn't indicate the daytime absence of small squid at these depths.

Figure. Vertical distribution chart of H. pfefferi, Hawaiian waters. Captures were made with both open and opening/closing trawls. Bars- fishing depth-range of opening/closing trawl. Circle- Modal fishing depth for either trawl. Blue-filled circles- Night captures. Yellow-filled circles- Day capture. Chart modified from Young (1978).

In the Atlantic Lu and Clarke (1975) show a similar vertical distribution pattern for Helicocranchia pfefferi. Most captures at less than 30 mm ML were made between 100 and 200 m. Around 30 mm ML an ontogenetic descent began although their largest specimen (49 mm ML) was taken between 300 and 400 m. Presumably the size/depth trend would continue for larger individuals.

Geographical distribution

Species occur throughout the world's tropical and subtropical oceans and, in the Atlantic Ocean, in north temperate waters (Voss, 1992).


Lu, C. C. and M. R. Clarke, 1975. Vertical Distribution of Cephalopods at 11° N 20° W in the North Atlantic. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, 55 (2): 369-389.

Voss, N. A. 1980. A generic revision of the Cranchiidae (Cephalopoda; Oegopsida). Bull. Mar. Sci., 30: 365-412.

Voss N. A., S. J. Stephen and Zh. Dong 1992. Family Cranchiidae Prosch, 1849. Smithson. Contr. Zool., 513: 187-210.

Young, R. E. 1972. The systematics and areal distribution of pelagic cephalopods from the seas off Southern California. Smithson. Contr. Zool., 97: 1-159.

Young, R. E. (1978). Vertical distribution and photosensitive vesicles of pelagic cephalopods from Hawaiian waters. Fish. Bull., 76: 583-615.

Title Illustrations
Scientific Name Helicocranchia pfefferi
Location off Southern California
View lateral
Copyright © 1996 Donald Bright
Scientific Name Helicocranchia pfefferi
Reference from Young, R. E. 1972. The systematics and areal distribution of pelagic cephalopods from the seas off Southern California. Smithson. Contr. Zool., 97: 1-159.
About This Page

Richard E. Young

Dept of Oceanography
University of Hawaii
Honolulu, Hawaii 96822

Katharina M. Mangold (1922-2003)

Citing this page:

Young, Richard E. and Mangold (1922-2003), Katharina M. 1996. Helicocranchia Massy, 1907. Piglet squid. Version 01 January 1996 (under construction). http://tolweb.org/Helicocranchia/19550/1996.01.01 in The Tree of Life Web Project, http://tolweb.org/

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