Animals & Wildlife Magazine

The Vampire Squid… is Actually a Zombie!

By Frontiergap @FrontierGap

The Vampire Squid, Vampyroteuthis infernalis, is a deep sea dwelling animal discovered just over a century ago. Its name literally means “vampire squid from hell”, and has remained unstudied for several decades until just recently. A recent study has just confirmed that this squid is actually a detrivore, making it the only living cephalopod to not hunt and seek its own prey.

The Vampire Squid… is actually a zombie!

Image courtesy of Anne-Lise Heinrichs

A recent study conducted by Henk-Jan Hoving and Bruce Robison from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) has concluded that this squid uses two thread-like filaments to capture suspended organic matter that falls from surface waters into deeper ones. This revelation is a first for other related cephalopods, which have are well developed predators that actively hunt for living prey. The vampire squid is an ancient animal, or a ‘living fossil’, that shares characteristics with both squids and octopi and lives in the bottom of tropical and subtropical oceans, near the oxygen minimum zone. It has eight arms, two long filaments and a cloak like web, but lacks the feeding tentacles used by many squids for capturing prey. They have a red colouration, large blue eyes and are about the size of a football. They exhibit a strange behavior of contorting inside out when threatened, revealing a strange looking row of cirri.

Historically, this species has not been studied in great detail given the difficulty associated with obtaining specimens from deep waters. A small amount of researchers have managed to net some vampire squids and examine their stomach contents, but the results were generally inconclusive. Given the recent advancements in ROV (Remote Operating Vehicles) for scientific research, these scientists at the MBARI have managed to observe this animal feeding in its natural habitat. The results they obtained showed that the vampire squid feeds on ‘marine snow’, which is falling detritus from surface waters. This feeding mechanism is possibly an evolutionary strategy to conserve energy, in a place where very little food exists. Hoving and Robison supported their theory by looking at stomach contents from museum specimens and collecting new ones in their research. They collects live vampire squids and studied their feeding habitats in the lab, with results indicating that food particles adhere to the squid’s long filaments which it then covers in mucus and draws to its mouth.

This study gives an interesting insight into the possible evolutionary history of cephalopods, forcing scientists to rethink the feeding habits of an entire taxon.

This harmless and docile creature is indeed the stuff of nightmares!

By Antoine Borg Micallef

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