Book review: Squid Empire: The Rise and Fall of the Cephalopods, by Danna Staaf

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Jon Trevelyan (UK)

If you, like me, spend much of your palaeontological time collecting Jurassic and Cretaceous cephalopods in the south of the UK (ammonites, belemnites and nautiluses), while dabbling with some Silurian orthocones in Shropshire, you will be delighted at the number of books being published recently about this fascinating group of animals.

Even if you are not, it is clear that the relatively recent books, Heteromorph and Nautilus, by Wolfgang Grulke represented an excellent start and, while being something of a misnomer, Squid Empire is an excellent addition, with a light touch approach, that presents a welcome discussion of its geological and natural history.

Rather than just focussing on squid, as its name implies, the book covers all cephalopods from their first emergence in the deep geological past, when they dominated the seas as the earth’s first substantial animals (as both predators and herbivores) until fish with jaws usurped their position as top dogs. It also explains the emergence of ammonites and belemnites, along with the reasons for their disappearance along with plenty of other organisms, at the end-Cretaceous extinction (with a group of belemnites apparently surviving, having evolved into squid, according to some scientists).

It also covers their more recent history, in the form of the surviving nautiluses, squid, octopuses, cuttlefish and so on surviving up to the present day. And the final chapter deals with where these wonderful marine animals may be going and whether they will survive the latest mass extinction currently being caused by human activity. For example, it appears that nautiluses are on the brink of an evolutionary adaptive radiation, at the same time as humans are threatening their very existence by overfishing for their lovely shells. This is at the same time as other squid are thriving due to the overfishing of their fish predators.

This is an excellent little book, which I highly recommend. But perhaps I would say that, as Deposits even makes a brief appearance in the footnotes to the book and at least one of our authors (Neale Monks) is quoted at length.

The author gained a PhD in invertebrate biology from Stanford University and wrote Squid a Day for the blog Science 2.0 (see

Squid Empire: The Rise and Fall of the Cephalopods, by Danna Staaf, ForeEdge (2017), New England,. 237 pages (hardback), ISBN: 978-1611689235

Leave a Reply