By Earl Filskov
March 5, 2015, 12:25 p.m.
Menacingly, it slowly moves through the darkness of the ocean, at depths of more than 3000 feet, in temperatures that are a numbing 36 degrees Fahrenheit. Vampyroteuthis infernalis, the Vampire Squid (literal translation: “Vampire Squid from Hell”), has been around for 300 million years and yet little is known about this amazing creature of the deep.
The oldest known cephalopod on the planet, the vampire squid is believed to be the living link between members of the octopods (octopus) and decapods (squids, cuttlefishes, etc.). Discovered in 1903 by Charles Chun, a German teuthologist, the vampire squid was originally classified as an octopus. Its menacing name is due to its the animal’s dark cape-like webbing between its eight tentacles and the black and red color it appears to possess depending on light conditions.
As more was learned about vampyroteuthis infernalis, such as the possession of two retractable sensory filaments that, when extended, resembles a squid, it was moved into its own animal order: vampyromorphida. Contributing to this decision is the fact that as the vampire squid matures the two fins on it body or mantle change size and location.
Amazingly, the vampire squid grows to only 12 inches in length at maturity. Rarely viewed up close by humans, the vampire squid is seen usually only with the help of photographic or video equipment from remotely-operated vehicles (ROV). With no visible context available in the deep dark oceans, those photos and video often make the vampire squid appear much larger.
Due to their living in the depth of the oceans known as the aphotic or lightless zone, it has the largest eyes (one inch in diameter) of any animal when compared in an eye-to-body ratio. The eyes appear as large blue blobs on its body and, just like its body, the eyes will appear reddish in certain lights.
This lightless zone of water is also known as the oxygen minimum zone or OMZ. In the OMZ, oxygen amounts are too low to support most aquatic life. The vampire squid is somehow able to breathe in oxygen levels of less than 3 percent. It is the only cephalopod known to survive in this environment along with very few other sea creatures.
It can be observed slowly swimming through the water by use of its fins at most times. The fins, which at birth start toward the top of the body, grow for a period of time and as the squid matures another set starts to grow under them. Eventually the first pair is absorbed back into the body and the new fins take their permanent shape and place. When young, they move around by jet propulsion like most cephalopods. Pushing jets of water out of the siphon located in its mantle. As adults they rely mostly on their fins for maneuvering through the water.
Defensively, the vampire squid will squirt out a mucous-like substance unlike other cephalopods that eject an ink like substance; it will also rely on photophores or light-producing organs that cover most of its body. It also has the ability to do what is known as ‘The Pineapple’: inverting itself with the webbing covering its body.
Vampire squid were thought to have survived primarily by eating copepods, prawns and cnidarians. It has since been discovered that they are the only cephalopod that does not hunt live prey. Their two retractable sensory filaments extend outward when sea snow, or dead zooplankton such as isopods, salps, crustaceans, larvaceans and copepods, fall through the ocean depths. Gluey, mucous materials coats the filaments, which catch the dead material and retract the food back toward the tentacles where they are taken by small spines, or cirri, and moved towards it mouth. The mouth is a super strong beak-like structure similar to many other cephalopods. The vampire squid does not possess suckers on the inner part of its eight tentacles by the cirri; suckers are only located on the exposed ends of the tentacles.
The lifespan of the vampire squid is unknown. They are not observed in captivity very often. Human interaction usually occurs during ROV viewing or when a fisherman accidentally catches one in a net. We do know that they have internal fertilization; the male ejects sperm into the female’s egg sac. The female releases the eggs and then cares for them for approximately 13 months. After her offspring hatch, the female dies from exhaustion. The babies do not have to eat for their first few weeks of life due to an internal yolk type of nourishment.
Frequent hunters of the vampire squid are deep-diving whales, sea lions and giant grenadiers. Human impact on the vampire squid has been minimal, but there is interest in conservation efforts due to the negative reputation the vampire squid attracts due to its name.
“Vampire Squid, Vampyroteuthis infernalis ~ MarineBio.org.” MarineBio Conservation Society. Web Accessed Wednesday, March 04, 2015. <http://marinebio.org/species.asp?id=179>. Last update: 1/14/2013 2:22:00 PM
Seibel, Brad. “Vampyroteuthis infernalis, Deep-sea Vampire squid.” The Cephalopod Page. Web accessed Wednesday, March 4, 2015. http://www.thecephalopodpage.org/vampy.php
“Vampyroteuthis infernalis” Encyclopedia of Life. Web Accessed Wednesday, March 04, 2015. http://eol.org/pages/492277/details