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As part of our continued exploration of the animal kingdom today we will perform a dissection of a squid, which is a member of the Class Cephalopoda within the Phylum Mollusca. This lab should introduce you to several of the major tissue types and organ systems found within these animals.


Molluscs are soft-bodied animals, more familiarly known as clams, octopods, and snails. They are bilaterally symmetrical, with well-developed digestive, circulatory, excretory, and respiratory systems. A calcareous shell may (e.g., snails, clams) or may not (e.g., slugs, octopods) be present.

Molluscs are closely related to annelids (segmented worms) in their mode of development and type of larva, but they are distinguished from the latter by a lack of segmentation. In addition, the extensive coelom, so important in annelid locomotion, is reduced in size in most molluscs; it is usually restricted to the area surrounding the heart and to spaces within the gonads and kidneys. Most molluscs are slow-moving, creeping animals, but in some instances the organization of the body regions has been modified so that swift movements are possible.

In an evolutionary sense, molluscs are extremely plastic, and they demonstrate highly successful adaptations to a variety of habitats. The considerable adaptive radiation exhibited by members of this phylum is reflected in the varied functional morphology of the group. In numbers of species, they are among the most abundant of all organisms. Although primarily marine, representatives are found in fresh water and on land.

All molluscs can theoretically be derived from a generalized body plan consisting of three main body regions: head-foot, visceral mass, and mantle. The head-foot region is the locomotory and sensory portion of the body, upon which rides the visceral mass containing the excretory, digestive, and circulatory organs. The third component of the body, the mantle, forms a fleshy cover over the visceral mass and a skirt around the foot. It secretes the shell ( in those molluscs that have one), which lies on its outer surface, contains the gills (ctenidia), and itself may function in respiration. The mantle alone might be considered the hallmark of the molluscs, for the flexability of the mantle in both form and function has contributed greatly to the success of the group.

General Organization of the Body

As the name indicates (kephalo = head; pod = foot), the head-foot is dominant in cephalopods. These are swift-moving carnivores, and their bodies are quite streamlined. The shell is either not well developed or entirely absent. When present, the shell is internal, except in the most ancient lineages (e.g., Nautilus)


Examine a preserved specimen of the squid Loligo). Note that there is no external shell and that the major part of the body is enclosed in a soft, fleshy mantle and is sharply demarcated from the rest of the squid body by the collar. Opposite the pointed end of the animal (the apex), you will find the head-foot region. The eight arms and two longer tentacles are derivatives of the foot and surround the mouth. Turn back the arms and tentacles to reveal a muscular membrane running from their bases to the mouth. This membrane is composed of an outer lobed buccal membrane with suckers on its inner surface and an inner peristomial membrane. Notice the horny beak protruding from the mouth. Locate the large, well-developed eyes and the fold of tissue behind the eye, called the olfactory crest.

Orientation at this point may cause problems, so align your specimen in such a way that the following descriptions will not be confusing. Place the animal so the apex is furthest from you and the arms are closest to you. Turn the animal so that the siphon (the tubular projections between the collar and the head-foot region) is facing you. It too is a derivative of the foot. The apex, which bears the visceral mass (digestive organs), is dorsal and the arms are ventral. The surface facing you is posterior. The eyes are on the left and right sides of the body, and the head structures have moved to a position that is dorsal to the foot.

Mantle Cavity, Shell, and Respiration

The mantle is a fleshy cover that incompletely surrounds most of the organs of the body. The space between the fleshy mantle lobes is called the mantle cavity. The openings of the digestive, excretory, and reproductive systems are all found within the mantle cavity. The mantle also functions in secretion of the shell. However, the most distinctive function of the mantle cavity is to provide a space for housing the delicate ctenidia (gills), thus protecting them from the hazards of the environment and permitting an oriented flow of water across them.

Primitive cephalopods show a chambered shell (e.g., Nautilus), but in others the shell is internal or absent. In Loligo, the chitinous endoskeletal element is known as the pen. You will be able to feel the stiff pen running the full length of your animal under the dorsal anterior surface. Of what advantage might a reduced or internal shell be to cephalopods?

The most obvious organs of the mantle are the paired ciliated gills or ctenidia. Strictly speaking, a ctenidium is a respiratory structure that includes ciliated filaments. The ciliary tracts on the filaments draw respiratory water currents into the mantle cavity on either side. The two currents filter through the ctenidial filaments, meet dorsally, and pass backward as an exhalent stream out of the mantle cavity. Gland cells on the filaments secrete mucus, and particles brought into the mantle cavity with the respiratory current are filtered out. Tracts of cilia on the ctenidia direct rejected material toward the midline.

Cephalopods are active predators, streamlined for quick motion; they therefore require a streamlining of their respiratory current. The walls of the mantle cavity are highly muscularized, and movement of water within the cavity is no longer dependent on ciliary action. With the ventral side of the squid facing toward you, observe the construction of the mantle collar and its relationship to the siphon. The siphon is derived from the foot. In life, the mantle cavity expands by muscular action, water enters, and the collar locks tightly against the head, leaving the siphon as the only exit pathway from the mantle cavity. The siphon is well equipped with muscles and can be pointed for making directed jet-propulsive movements.

Open the mantle cavity by making an incision that runs the entire length of the posterior surface from siphon to apex. Dissect with care so as not to disturb the internal organs. Notice that the mantle consists of a thick layer of circular muscles surrounded by integument, with dorsolateral muscularized extensions, the fins. Turn the cut mantle edges laterally and pin them out to expose the internal organs clearly. Note that the tip of the siphon has a valve that regulates the outflow of water from the mantle cavity. The inner side of the mantle has cartilaginous ridges that keep the inhalent currents separate from the exhalent. There are two ctenidia (gills) oriented so that the inhalent streams pass over each, then converge and exit as a single exhalent stream.


The paired excretory organs of the molluscs are closely associated with the heart. There are two kinds of molluscan excretory organs: brownish pericardial glands (difficult to see in most specimens) and renal nephridia or kidneys. In the kidney, nitrogenous wastes (urea, amines, and predominantly, ammonia) are extracted from the blood. Inorganic substances may be taken back into the blood, and the composition of the waste is determined by the extent of renal secretion and reabsorption. Excretory material is passed to the mantle cavity and voided in an excurrent blast through the siphon.

The cephalopod kidney is derived from two separate renal organs that have fused. The kidney is closely associated with the gill hearts, which are swellings of the blood vessels at the base of the gills. The contractions of the gill hearts forces fluid through the walls of the blood vessels into the kidney.

If necessary, in your opened Loligo, remove the thin semi transparent skin covering the organs of the visceral mass. Locate the rectum ending in the anus at the base of the siphon. If your specimen is a female, there will be two large white nidamental glands that covers most of the internal organs. These will need to be carefully removed in order to see the stomach and other organs. Notice the swollen branchial heart at the base of the left gill and attempt to look for it's close attachment to the kidney. This may be difficult to locate but give it a try.

Blood and Circulation

Molluscs do not have a spacious body cavity (coelom), and in all except the cephalopods, the body space is composed of large sinuses, which act as pooling places for the blood. For this reason, the body space is more accurately described as a hemocoel; (a membranous sac enclosing the heart) and the cavity of the gonad. Blood that has collected in the sinuses from various parts of the body passes first through the kidney and respiratory organ and then via the branchial artery to the heart. The main propulsive force for distribution of blood in the connective tissue spaces gives the blood an additional function to that of distribution; namely, it acts as a component of the hydrostatic (fluid supported) skeleton. The foot of clams, for example, is is elarged and forced outward by the influx of blood and is withdrawn by contraction of longitudinal muscles.

The active swimming and carnivorous habits of the cephalopods require a more efficient circulatory system than in a clam - one that is closed and contains capillaries.

Feeding and Digestion

Molluscs demonstrate all possible feeding habits (herbivorous, carnivorous, and omnivorous), and the structure and function of the gut are related to the type of food eaten. Cephalopods are voracious carnivores and do not depend upon ciliary currents for the capture of food. They do, however, retain some of the structural components of the gut, such as the radula (a tooth-bearing, food-gathering structure unique to molluscs).

The mouth is surrounded by eight pointed arms and two longer tentacles. Observe the structure of these arms and tentacles and the arrangement of the suckers upon them. Study the organization of the suckers under the dissecting microscope. In life, the prey is grabbed by a rapid extension of the two tentacles and brought toward the mouth, where it is held firmly in place by the eight arms and killed by an injection of poison. Remove the siphon, and, by median incision, cut into the head, separating the eyes and exposing the buccal mass. This is a muscular organ that bears two horny beaks, which are used for ripping prey. Pry open the beak and observe the radula. Posterior to the buccal mass are a pair of salivary glands, which pour their poisonous secretions into the buccal cavity. Trace the thin-walled esophagus (surrounded by the liver) from the buccal mass to the thick-walled stomach. The stomach emerges from the liver tissue to form the caecum, which extends to the tip of the visceral mass. The liver consists of paired digestive glands fused in the midline; it is a triangular organ with the base located ventrally near the collar. A U-shaped pancreas lies anterior to the stomach; its duct unites with that of the liver before passing into the caecum. The intestine runs forward from the stomach, shows a diverticulum (the ink sac), and terminates in the rectum.

Talk to your partnere and make sure that you are able to answer following questions:

What is the function of the ink sac?
What is the length of the gut relative to the body length?
How might this relationship (gut length vs. body length) differ between herbivores and carnivores?
What is the significance of the difference?
How does the location of the anus in each of your dissected specimens guarantee that the mantle cavity is not fouled with feces?

Nervous and Sensory Systems

The structure of the nervous system in molluscs ranges from a simple "ladder" type to a system in which there is extreme fusion of ganglia, forming a true brain. The ultimate in invertebrate cephalization is seen in the cephalopods. Evolutionary fusion of ganglia followed by extensive differentiation makes it difficult to compare the ganglia with those of other molluscs. In your specimen, the easiest part of the nervous system to find are the large stellate ganglia, located on the inner dorsal surface of the mantle at the level of the tip of the ctenidia. The stellate ganglia are the motor centers of the mantle and give rise to its giant fiber system, which is favorite material for neurophysiologists.


From the complex structure of the cephalopod nervous system, one would expect these organisms to be capable of a variety of neuromuscular activities. They are particularly well demonstrated by the feeding and swimming movements of the squid. In Loligo, which is a rapid swimmer, the giant fiber system of the mantle is effective in producing quick-firing, rapid muscular contractions.


The eyes of cephalopods are the best developed among all molluscs, and perhaps among all invertebrates. Carefully remove an eye from your specimen by cutting the eye muscles and optic nerve. The outermost covering is the false cornea, which is underlain by the true cornea. Remove the corneas and identify the spherical lens, the colored iris and choroid coat, and the innermost lining, the retina. How does the organization of the eye of the squid compare with that of the human?


In cephalopods, the sexes are always separate; the gonad is at the apex of the body and its ducts open directly into the coelom. Fertilization is internal, and there may be complicated courtship behavior and parental care of the young. You should be sure to view the reproductive organs of both a male and a female squid.

If your specimen is a female, identify the single large ovary at the apex of the visceral mass. Identify the large, white nidamental glands, together with the orange-speckled accessory nidamental glands beneath their ventral ends. The oviduct is a transparent tube, possibly packed with eggs, leading by a small ciliated funnel from the vicinity of the ovary. The oviduct loops ventrally, dorsally, and ventrally again as the glandular, thicker walled oviducal gland. It terminates in a flared opening. The large, yolky eggs are shed from the ovary into the coelomic cavity and are picked up by the ciliated funnel of the oviduct. As the eggs pass along the oviduct, they receive an elastic membrane from the nidamental glands and a gelatinous coat from the oviducal glands.

If your specimen is a male, remove the left gill and branchial heart. The single large, white testis is located at the apex of the visceral mass. It opens directly to the coelom by a slit at its anterior end. Near the opening lies the ciliated opening to the vas deferens, an opaque, white, coiled tube leading ventrally between the spermatophoric sac on the right and the thick-walled spermatophoric organ on the left, and opening to the exterior by the penis to the left of the rectum. The penis is not a muscular intromittent organ and is no more than the end of the vas deferens.

Remove a small portion of the spermatophoric sac and view it under the dissecting microscope. To get a more detailed look, remove a single spermatophore and view it on a slide under a compound microscope. Be sure not to squash it under a cover slip - use three cover slips, making a bridge under which you can view the spermatophore. When you have identified all the various parts, make a thin cross-section through a spermatophore, and view it under high power (40X lens).

When the spermatophores are released, the cap breaks open, and the ejaculatory organ turns inside out and pulls the sperm mass and cement gland with it; the cement gland fastens the sperm securely wherever it happens to land. This is usually a glandular area located on the buccal membrane of the female. During copulation, the male squid exhibits courtship behavior that culminates in the deposition of spermatophores on the female. In male squid, the fourth arm to the left is specially modified to pick packets of spermatophores from the opening of the vas deferens and transfer them to the female. Following courtship and fertilization, the female holds the gelatinous egg mass in her arms an attaches it to a suitable spot, usually rocks below the low tide mark. Young squid hatch within 2-3 weeks.


Check your familiarity of squid anatomy
Squid Anatomy (YouTube)
Squid Anatomy Discovery Channel
On Line Quiz - squid anatomy