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Histioteuthidae Verrill, 1881

Richard E. Young and Michael Vecchione
Two genera, Histioteuthis and Stigmatoteuthis, and 19 species are recognized in the family.
taxon links [down<--]Histioteuthid_families [up-->]Histioteuthis bonnellii [up-->]Histioteuthis macrohista [up-->]Histioteuthis atlantica [up-->]Histioteuthis eltaninae [up-->]Histioteuthis reversa [up-->]Stigmatoteuthis arcturi [up-->]Stigmatoteuthis dofleini [up-->]Stigmatoteuthis hoylei [up-->]Histioteuthis sp. A [up-->]Histioteuthis celetaria [up-->]Histioteuthis inermis [up-->]Histioteuthis pacifica [up-->]Histioteuthis berryi [up-->]Histioteuthis cerasina [up-->]Histioteuthis corona [up-->]Histioteuthis miranda [up-->]Histioteuthis oceani [up-->]Histioteuthis heteropsis [up-->]Histioteuthis meleagroteuthis Interpreting the tree
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Containing group: Histioteuthid families


The Histioteuthidae contains mostly weakly muscled species of moderate size (up to 33 cm ML). In general they have very long, thick arms and short mantles with small rounded fins. One of the most distinctive features of these squid is the different size and orientation of the eyes. The left eye is much larger than the right eye and has a semitubular, rather than a hemispherical, shape. This larger eye, while mobile, generally is directed posterodorsally as indicated by the distribution of iridophores on its outer surface. In this position the eye, on an obliquely oriented squid, is directed vertically upward. During the day in middepths this eye, presumably looks for silhouettes of animals against the dim downwelling light. The right eye has a normal shape and points laterally and slightly downward. Learn more about the eyes here.

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Figure. Left and right side views of Stigmatoteuthis hoylei as the squid holds onto large forceps in a ship-board aquarium.

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Figure. Posterodorsal view of S. hoylei held by hand. The view is directly into the upward-looking large eye but the smaller eye cannot be seen.

The systematics of the Histioteuthidae is well known compared to most families of oceanic squids due to the excellent and detailed work of N. Voss and her colleagues. Most of the information presented here on the species of this family comes directly (often verbatum) from their works. For a fuller account of this family the viewer should consult these papers, especially Voss, 1969 and Voss, Nesis and Rodhouse, 1998.


A member of the histioteuthid families ...


  1. Arms
    1. Inner web between oral surfaces of arms weakly to strongly developed. Occasionally outer web between aboral surfaces of arms also present.
  2. Head
    1. Left eye much larger than right eye.
  3. Photophores
    1. Ventral surfaces of mantle, head and arms with anteriorly directed compound photophores with red color filters and unique morphology.
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      Figure. Ventral view of photophores on arm IV, S. hoylei, off Hawaii. Photograph by R. Young.

  4. Gladius
    1. Posterior end of gladius with a cupped coil.


The pattern of photophores is important in identifying species and species groups. Some of the basic patterns and the terminology associated with them can be found here.

Comparisons among species groups

Voss (1969) and Voss, et al (1998) have recognized subspecies in several Histioteuthis species. Since designation of either species or subspecies in this family is based on arbitrary criteria concering the degree of difference between the taxa, we prefer to consider their subspecies as species. The present 19 taxa of the genus are placed into 7 species groups on the basis of similarity (Voss, et al., 1998). The table below examines the distribution of 9 important systematic characteristics that separate the species groups, and in some cases, species within a group.

Group Species Photop. series, arms IV Photop. sizes, ant. mantle Photop., arm-tip, simple Photop., arm-tip, with gap Photop. head pattern Photop. no. in Basal Row Tubercles Inner web Paired penes
reversa H. atlantica 4 intermixed present absent ? ? absent shallow absent
H. eltaninae 3 intermixed absent absent ? ? absent shallow absent
H. reversa 4 intermixed absent absent ? ? absent shallow absent
Stigmato-teuthis S. arcturi 3 uniform absent absent Type 1a 8 absent shallow present
S.dofleini 3 uniform absent absent Type 1a 8 absent shallow present
S.hoylei 3 uniform absent absent Type 1a 8 absent shallow present
bonnellii H. bonnellii 3 uniform present absent Type 1b 7 absent deep absent
H. macrohista 3 uniform present absent ? ? absent deep absent
celetaria H. celetaria 3 uniform absent present Type 1b 9 absent shallow absent
H. pacifica 3 uniform absent present Type 1b 9 absent shallow absent
H. sp. A 3 uniform absent present Type 1b 9 absent shallow absent?
corona H. berryi 4 uniform absent absent Type 2b 7 absent shallow absent
H. cerasina 3 uniform absent absent Type 2a 7 absent shallow absent
H. corona 3 uniform absent absent Type 2a 7 absent shallow absent
H. inermis 3 uniform absent absent ? 10 absent shallow absent
miranda H. miranda 5 medium absent absent ? ? present shallow absent
H. oceani 6 uniform absent absent ? ? present shallow absent
H. meleagroteuthis 8-9 uniform absent absent ? ? present shallow absent
H. heteropsis 8-10 uniform absent absent ? ? absent shallow absent

Some of the characters in the table above are illustrated here:

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Figures. Left to right:

  • Photop. series, arms IV - Ventral view of arms IV showing photophores in three series, Stigmatoteuthis hoylei, off Hawaii. Photograph by R. Young.
  • Photop., sizes, ant. mantle - Ventral view of mantle, Histioteuthis reversa , showing mantle photophores of two different sizes. Photograph by R. Young.
  • Photop., arm-tip, simple - Lateral view of arm tip, H. atlantica, showing simple (dark), elongate photophores of the aboral surface. Photograph by E. McSweeny.
  • photop., arm-tip, with gap - Ventral view of arm IV, H. sp. A, showing group of arm-tip photophores separated from proximal photophores by a gap. Photograph by R. Young.
  • Inner web; tubercules - Dorsal view of H. oceani, off Hawaii showing web between arms and rows of tubercules. Photograph by R. Young.
Characters not illustrated are:


A list of all nominal genera and species in the Histioteuthidae can be found here. The list includes the current status and type species of all genera, and the the current status, type repository and type locality of all species and all pertinent references.

Life History

Paralarvae have not been positively identified to species. Paralarvae, however, are easily recognized as being histioteuthids by the long arms, in combination with the very large arm suckers relative to the very small tentacular club suckers. The abrupt transition from the paralarval to the juvenile stage in histioteuthids involves pronounced morphological changes. This makes paralarval identification difficult unless intermediates in the changeover period can be found.

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Figure. Ventral and dorsal views of paralarvae of two sizes of two species of histioteuthids. A, B - Probably growth stages of Stigmatoteuthis. hoylei, based on relative abundance. A1, A2 - 2.0 mm ML, B1, B2 - 2.9 mm ML. C, D - Probably growth stages of either H. oceani or H. cerasina, the other two common Hawaiian histioteuthids. C1, C2 - 1.8 mm ML, D1, D2 - 3.6 mm ML. All were taken off Hawaii. Original drawings by R. young. The bar is 1 mm.

At or near sexual maturity many species of histioteuthids exhibit morphological change often involving the addition of photophores and in at least one case (H. reversa) a change in body proportions.


Histioteuthids observed from submersibles characteristically have the mantle oblique with all arms curled above the head which, in long-armed species, can give the impression that the squid is tied in a knot (see photograph below). Presumably this posture is in response to disturbance by the submersible. In addition to the usual function of fins, the small fins at the posterior tip of the mantle form a circle and swimming waves from one will continue onto the other causing the squid to rotate about its axis (Hunt, 1996).

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Figure. Left - In situ video frames of a histioteuthid (probably H. reversa), depth unknown. Right - Two video frames of Stigmatoteuthis arcturi, 800 m, Bahamas, show a hovering S. arcturi with "knotted arms" on the left, then the same squid slowly swimming away on the right. Pictures provided by M. Vecchione.


Hunt, J. C. 1996. The behavior and ecology of midwater cephalopods from Monterey Bay: Submersible and laboratory observations. Ph. D. Dissertation, Univ. Calif. Los Angeles. 231 pp.

Voss, N. A. 1969. A monograph of the Cephalopoda of the North Atlantic: The family Histioteuthidae. Bull. Mar. Sci., 19: 713-867.

Voss, N.A., K. N. Nesis, P. G. Rodhouse. 1998. The cephalopod family Histioteuthidae (Oegopsida): Systematics, biology, and biogeography. Smithson. Contr. Zool., 586(2): 293-372.

Voss, N. A., S. J. Stephen and Zh. Dong. 1992. Family Histioteuthidae. Smithson. Contr. Zool., No. 513: 73-91.

Title Illustrations
Scientific Name Stigmatoteuthis hoylei
Location off Hawaii
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Copyright © 1996 R. E. Young
About This Page

Richard E. Young

Dept of Oceanography
University of Hawaii
Honolulu, Hawaii 96822

National Marine Fisheries Service
Systematics Laboratory
National Museum of Natural History
Washington, D. C. 20560

Citing this page:

Young, Richard E. and Vecchione, Michael. 1996. Histioteuthidae Verrill, 1881. Version 01 January 1996 (under construction). http://tolweb.org/Histioteuthidae/19782/1996.01.01 in The Tree of Life Web Project, http://tolweb.org/

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