Danna Staaf: “Squid Empire: The Rise and Fall of the Cephalopods” @ Talks at Google (Transcript)

[MUSIC PLAYING] SPEAKER 1: Good morning Thank you all for coming

It's great to see such a full room today I'm delighted to welcome Dianna Staaf Dianna Staaf fell in love with cephalopods at the age of 10 She began to keep them as pets in a home aquarium and learned to scuba dive in order to meet more of them in the wild She went on to study pygmy octopuses in Santa Barbara, cuttlefish in Australia, reef squid in Bermuda, and finally completed her PhD on, quote, "Reproduction and Early Life of the Humboldt Squid," or, quote, "Squid Sex and Babies," at Stanford

Her first book titled "Squid Empire: the Rise and Fall of the Cephalopods," has been named one of the best science books of 2017 by NPR Science Friday She lives in San Jose in the physical world and at cephalopodiatristcom online Please join me in welcoming to Google Dianna Staaf DIANNA STAAF: Thank you so much

It's really wonderful to be here I know it was probably hard to take time away from your work to come, and I appreciate that everybody was able to do that to be here And for anybody watching it remotely or in the future, thank you for taking time out of whatever else you were going to be doing to see this I am here to talk to you about cephalopods, which is a difficult word to say all by itself And so we can just call them squid, and octopus, and relatives

And in particular, the story that I want to tell about them is a story that parallels the history of dinosaurs And the reason that this particular story about cephalopods has caught my attention to the point that I wrote a whole book about it is that I started to realize that the deep, evolutionary history of squid and octopuses was even more fascinating than the famous dinosaurs that we all know and love from the age of three or four, and yet nobody knows anything about it So I'm going to tell you today why cephalopods are even better than dinosaurs And in particular, trying to spark something that I like to call the Cephalopod Renaissance This is a reference to something called the Dinosaur Renaissance that happened in the latter part of the last century

We often don't even realize it today, but dinosaurs used to be seen as really slow, and really stupid, and really boring And that was this view up here This drawing was done in the late 1800s, but the view persisted into the early 1900s as well that dinosaurs were too heavy to even walk around They had to live in swamps They were too stupid to survive, and so they were already doomed by the time an asteroid hit and ended their reign

And so no one was actually that interested in their lives and behavior until a scientist named Bob Bakker in the '60s started to describe dinosaurs, and in particular one famous dinosaur named deinonychus, and realized that it moved quickly, it was very active, it was very energetic And this actually became the whole view of dinosaurs that we now know As complex creatures with social lives and behaviors, and all their relationships with birds, and the feathers, and the warm bloodedness And all of this stuff is called the Dinosaur Renaissance and gives us this beautiful view of the delightfully ferocious, warm blooded, cuddly dinosaurs that we know today And, of course, this Dinosaur Renaissance happened in the scientific literature championed by scientists, but it quickly seeped out into popular culture giving us all of these

This is why we have Jurassic Park and all of its sequels This is why we have so many sticker books full of dinosaurs and video games full of dinosaurs Its because there was this shift in scientific thinking about dinosaurs realizing how complex and interesting their lives really were So I'm here to show you the same thing happening with cephalopods, except they're even better And one of the ways in which they're even better is that they have so many representatives around today that we can learn from

Of course, we have representatives of dinosaurs today We have birds And similarly to that, we can think about what do we have the squid and the octopus that we have today, and what makes them what they are? A lot of the things that we think of are tentacles, camouflage There's actually a cuttlefish here hiding in the sand It's little arms are coming down there and it has two little black eyes

The amazing camouflage abilities of these animals are legendary And, of course, they can also squirt ink if that doesn't work and they have to get away quickly And it's all connected to their intelligence Their very large brains Their ability to coordinate

The camouflage, the behavior, to coordinate all of those arms and tentacles moving together It all has to be done by a very complex central nervous system And these are all the things that we know and love about cephalopods today About squid and octopus And one of the things that is most fascinating to me about their evolutionary history is that none of these things originally made the first cephalopod

The very first cephalopod was made by a shell A buoyant shell And that was what separated the early cephalopods from all of the other snails, and mollusks, and other clams and things that were living on the sea floor And to understand how this happened, we have to go way, way, way back in time because cephalopods are twice as old as dinosaurs So we have to go before humans, obviously, but also way back before the dinosaurs, and way back before there was anything on land

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