Research

What Makes Squids Fast

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Cephalopods like the octopus or squid are some of the fastest marine creatures, able to accelerate to many body lengths per second by jetting water behind them. Part of what makes its high speed achievable, though, is the way the animal changes its shape. In general, drag forces are proportional to the square of velocity, meaning that doubling the velocity increases the drag by a factor of four. The energy necessary to overcome such large drag increases generally prevents marine animals from going very fast (compared to those of us used to moving through air!) But drag is also proportional to frontal area. Like the bio-inspired rocket in the video above, jetting cephalopods begin their acceleration from a bulbous shape and then shrink their exposed area as they accelerate. Not only does this shape change help mitigate increases in drag due to velocity, it prevents flow from separating around the animal, shielding it from more drag. The result is incredible acceleration using only a simple jet for thrust. For example, the octopus-like rocket in the video above reaches velocities of more than ten body lengths per second in less than a second. (Video credit: G. Weymouth et al.)

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