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Vampire Squid

Category: General Article

Back to Creep into the DEEPEND

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Summary: DEEPEND grad student Laura Timm talks about a fascinating deep-sea animal with a deceptively horrific name – the vampire squid!

Good morning Virtual Research Team!

Today we woke up early and ate breakfast (there is a full kitchen on the ship and a cook who makes sure we all get hot meals) before deploying the nets. Dr. Frank told you about MOCNESS. It is exciting to watch the Team deploy MOCNESS. MOCNESS attaches to a thick metal cable connected to the A-frame and pulley system. We release the net out to sea, then reeled back in, sort of like a giant fishing reel.

The nets were in the water a long time: six hours! This gave the nets enough time to get as deep as we needed and then pulled back on to the ship. When we pulled the nets back up, we found many cool animals!

When the water is that deep, there is no sunlight and animals need to find different ways to sense their surroundings and communicate with each other. We found black fish with spots that glow (bioluminesce), bright red shrimp with long antennae, and squid with giant eyes.

Today, I helped Team Cephalopod collect individuals. I’m so glad because we found a vampire squid!

A vampire squid is a small squid. Adults are usually less than a foot long. The one we caught today was only a couple of inches long.

One of the cephalopod experts shared with me how it got its name. The scientific name for the vampire squid is Vampyroteuthis infernalis. This is Latin and it roughly translates to "the “vampire squid from Hades.” The vampire squid was discovered and named more than 100 years ago in 1903. That was a few years after the publication of DRACULA by Bram Stoker (1897).

Just like today, the person who discovers an animal gets to name it. The little beauty’s jet-black skin and red eyes (in certain lights) reminded the person of a vampire.

The vampire squid lives 1,969 to 2,625 feet (600-800 m) down.

As you can see from the illustration, the vampire squid’s arms are webbed. It may look like a scary predator, but looks are deceiving. The vampire squid is a scavenger which eats marine snow. Marine snow is made up of bits and pieces of dead animals, algae, feces, and organic debris that sink from above. Scientists call a vampire squid a “detritivore.”

How does it capture marine snow? It floats in the water and waves a long filament (you can see the filaments in the illustration). The filament captures marine snow. That may not seem like much to eat, but the vampire squid is incredibly energy efficient. Its diet and deceptively simple way of gathering food means it doesn’t burn as many calories as… say a fast swimming fish does.

Like many animals in the deep, the squid is uses bioluminescence. When startled or threatened, it puts on quite a light show to confuse or trick the predator. If that’s not enough, it can do something else. You may know that some shallow-water octopus and squid release a jet of black ink to startle or confuse predators. In a dark world, ink wouldn’t do much good. When startled, the vampire squid releases a cloud of glowing slime. Between a light show and a cloud of lights in the dark, it has some fascinating ways to protect itself.

It’s such a cool animal and now that I know how it got its name, it seems even more fun.

I was thinking…the person who discovers a new plant or animal also gets the honor of giving it its scientific name. An animal’s scientific name might tell you what the discoverer thought it looked like or the way it behaved. Some name the new species in honor of a colleague, friend, or family member. Some scientists even have a sense of humor, like thinking of Dracula when naming this squid.

Maybe we’ll discover some new species on our DEEPEND cruise and be able to name them!

Today was really exciting! I’ve never been on a research cruise that trawls so deep and I saw a lot of animals for the very first time. We’ll keep searching for new things here in the Gulf of Mexico!

Remember to send us your questions – and we’d love to hear about the animal you might discover. Anchors away!

Laura Timm, DEEPEND Grad Student

Vampire squid illustration by Michael Cole, Oregon Coast Aquarium.

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Creep Into the DEEPEND is a WhaleTimes, Inc. Virtual Research Mission, in cooperation with the DEEPEND Consortium and the Oceanscape Network. For more information visit whaletimes.org

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The dates shown on the Creep into the DEEPEND blogs represent the original cruise dates for this expedition. Our online postings have been intentionally delayed for the start of the 2015-16 school year so students and teachers can participate in this adventure. Thank you.