Revealed: the secret that makes flying squid faster than Usain Bolt

The squid can eject water through a nozzle nea  its head as a form of jet propulsion

Scientists in Japan have calculated that squid can fly through the air faster than Usain Bolt can run, in a study that confirms the extraordinary aerial prowess of the edible mollusc.

A study based on photographs of flying squid in the Pacific Ocean estimates that they can reach a speed of up to 11.2 metres per second, which is significantly faster than the 10.31 metres per second that Bolt averaged in the 100 metre final at the London Olympics.

Over the past few years, a number of anecdotal accounts have emerged of squid streaking through the air above the sea for several metres and now a team of Japanese marine biologists have photographed them doing it en masse.

The squid, which normally swims backwards through the water using its fins, can eject water through a nozzle near its head as a form of jet propulsion in emergencies. It is this technique they use to glide through the air like flying fish.

“There were always witnesses and rumours that such squid were seen flying, but no one had clarified how they actually do it. We have proved that it really is true,” Jun Yamamoto, of Hokkaido University, told the AFP news agency.

The researchers were following a shoal of about 100 members of the Japanese flying squid family in the north-west Pacific Ocean, about 370 miles from Tokyo, when they started photographing them shooting out of the water and gliding for several metres with their fins extended.

“Once they finish shooting out the water, they glide by spreading out their fins and tentacles. The fins and the web between the tentacles create aerodynamic lift and keep the squid stable on its flight arc,” said Professor Yamamoto. “We have discovered that squid do not just jump out of the water, but have a highly developed flying posture. This finding means that we should no longer consider squid as things that live only in the water.

“It is highly possible that they are also a source of food for sea birds,” he added.

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