Vampire squid–with cloudy blue eyes, a blood red body, and barbed arms– may be the deep sea’s most frightening creature, but according to a new study, it may also be the gentlest. It turns out, this vampire is actually a vegetarian.
The decisive clue to the vampire’s kinder nature came in the form of long, stringy tentacles. For decades scientists puzzled over the mystery of these strange appendages. Are they for mating? Defense? No one knew, until scientists observed the squid doing something altogether surprising. It turns out, vampire squid use these tentacles like fishing lines, but they’re not catching living prey, they’re catching ‘snow’. Vampire squid scoop up sinking ocean gunk, known as marine snow, with their thin yellow tentacles, and then suck it off these appendages (like licking your fingers). This gunk includes bits of algae, dead animals, poo and bacteria from the ocean above.
And while the ‘vegetarian vampire’ story may be distressingly familiar–I can guarantee the vampire squid came up with it first. The lineage that includes the vampire squid has been around since the Jurassic (as in dinosaurs), and while it’s called a squid, its family tree is so old that it’s neither a squid, nor an octopus, but something altogether different. A unique creature living gently in its dark, cold, inhospitable home. Twilight may have made millions in media sales, but it’s got nothing on this real life gentle ocean vampire…
The Midwater Ecology lab has been exploring the midwaters of Monterey Bay for the last week on the Western Flyer. On this expedition, they have been working with the ROV pilots to attempt to use the sonar on the ROV to detect midwater animals.
The pilots are testing how increasing the pulse length on the Mesotech sonar enables the scientists to detect more midwater animals in order to try to estimate abundances. For example, they could estimate the size of krill swarms. With the ROV they can ground-truth the organisms the sonar is imaging.
This bright sonar hit is an exceptionally large vampire squid, Vampyroteuthis infernalis.
The velvety red of a drifting jelly, the brick red of a vampire squid…many deep-sea creatures exhibit the colors of Valentine’s Day. When pursuing the prey object of their desire, deep-sea creatures may use red as camouflage. Wavelengths of light in the red end of the visible spectrum are preferentially absorbed by seawater, and therefore red colors appear black in the deep sea. Red animals disappear into the darkness, enabling them to ambush unsuspecting prey or avoid a hungry predator.
The bright red lights you can see in some of the clips (e.g., the sea star at 01:22) are lasers from MBARI’s remotely operated vehicle (ROV) and used to estimate sizes. The lasers are 29 cm apart.
MBARI researchers discover what vampire squids eat (it’s not what you think)
About 100 years ago, marine biologists hauled the first vampire squid up from the depths of the sea. Since that time, perhaps a dozen scientific papers have been published on this mysterious animal, but no one has been able to figure out exactly what it eats. A new paper by MBARI Postdoctoral Fellow Henk-Jan Hoving and Senior Scientist Bruce Robison shows for the first time that, unlike its relatives the octopuses and squids, which eat live prey, the vampire squid uses two thread-like filaments to capture bits of organic debris that sink down from the ocean surface into the deep sea…
Despite their name, vampire squid are not deep-sea bloodsuckers. In fact, new research finds these mysterious creatures are garbage disposals of the ocean.
Using long, skinny tendrils called filaments, vampire squid capture marine detritus hovering in the water ― from crustacean eyes and legs to larvae poop ― then coat it in mucus before chowing down, according to the new findings.
The discovery is a first for cephalopods, which include squid, octopus and cuttlefish, said study researcher Henk-Jan Hoving. “It’s the first record of a cephalopod that doesn’t hunt for living prey,” Hoving, a postdoctoral scientist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California, told LiveScience.
Vampire squid (Vampyroteuthis infernalis), which grow to be about a foot (30 centimeters) long, are widespread but not well-known. Even their life spans remains a mystery. Their name comes from their dark coloring, red eyes and the cloak-like webbing between their arms. And as namesakes of the undead, vampire squid apparently have little need for breathing. They thrive in oceanic oxygen minimum zones, where the oxygen levels are sometimes less than 5 percent that of the surrounding air…
Due to the fact that they live more than 3,000 feet below the surface of cold water areas, not much is known about human interactions with them. Most of the time it is either calculated research or a fishermen accidentally captures one.
Creatures of the Deep Sea: A Vampire Squid (Vampyrotheuthis infernalis). This strange creature lives in deep, oxygen-limited areas from around 2,000 to 3,000 ft (600 to 900 m.) depth. It has glowing tentacle tips, and two glowing spots on the sides of its body. When disturbed, vampire squid can emit a glowing slime.