­Book cover for '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea'
Image courtesy Consumer Guide Products
In Jules Verne's "20,000 Leagues under the Sea," a giant squid attacks a submarine. See more squid pictures.

More than 300 years ago, stories began circulating about a many-armed beast with tentacles as tall as a ship's mast living in the ocean depths. One squeeze of this monstrous creature's enormous arms "could entangle a ship of five hund­red tons and hurry it into the abyss of the ocean," Jules Verne wrote in his classic science-fiction novel, "20,000 Leagues under the Sea."

Although no such creature actually exists, the legends are­ likely based on sightings of giant squid, real but elusive creatures that can reach lengths of 60 feet with tentacles up to 30 feet long. Few animals have inspired as much wonder and fear as the giant squid.

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­The giant squid's smaller cousins are better known, though no less fascinating. Squid are swift, agile and surprisingly intelligent creatures with brains closer in proportion to those of mammals than those of fish or reptiles.

In this article, you'll get to know the often misunderstood squid, meet some of the unusual animals that are part of this species, and find out what happened when scientists finally came face-to-face with the mysterious giant squid.

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