When doing a squid dissection at Discovery Camp during messy science week, the criteria for success are generally simple. If you are easily able to discern the two phrases “Ew!” and “That’s so cool!” particularly if they are sequenced in such a way that the former leads into the latter, it's safe to say that it’s already been a successful day in the classroom. I live for the moments where a camper is able to recognize the ink sac of a squid or gasps in amazement at the first sight of the animal’s well-developed beak and mouth. For the campers and counselors of Discovery Camp, this balance between the comfortable novelty of the fascinating and the slightly icky wonder of the as-yet-unknown fuels us.
We began our dissection by looking at the external anatomy of the squid, including one of my favorite structures found in many species of cephalopod, the chromatophores. These color-changing cells are responsible for the beautifully complex camouflage systems found in animals such as the octopus, cuttlefish, and the squid. From there, we discussed other easily noticeable features such as the tentacles, mantle, and fins. It was when we moved into the internal anatomy, however, that the adventure truly began for many of the campers.
As their counselors made careful incisions on the outside of the squid in order to expose the internal organs, the campers looked on with expressions running the gamut from mild disgust to uninhibited wonder. Dissection can be a messy affair, and I briefly worried that some campers might not be able to stick with the experiment. Over time, though, I realized that my main job as an informal science educator in this situation was to wait for the “Ew”s to turn to “Ah!”s.
“That’s disgusting!” One camper exclaimed loudly as their counselor pointed out the exposed heart and gills of the squid. Mere seconds later, she leaned in closer to take a closer look at these very same anatomical features. By the end of the lesson, she and her counselor were on the search for the brain of the squid.
By the end of the activity, we had barely scratched the surface of the interesting biological and anatomical features of the squid. The questions continued well into the other messy science activities of the day, including one in which campers used real cuttlefish ink to paint pictures. The campers didn’t know everything there was to know about squid by the end of the day, but they had found something greater. They had an inkling of the greater scientific implications of the dissection we had done earlier in the day, and perhaps had built up the courage to move from the unfamiliar to the partially understood.
At camp, discovery can be sometimes challenging, maybe a little smelly or slimy, but it is always the beginning of a new scientific journey.
Interested in signing your young scientist(s) up? Learn more!
To learn more about squid at home, check out the book Giant Squid by Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann.