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Episode 14: Watch your toes, the Vampire Squid

Vampire squid in Monterey Bay

The Vampire Squid is an especially unique cephalopod that can date back to the age of the dinosaurs. Living in the depths of the ocean, this unique creature has adapted to not only survive, but thrive in some of the most inhospitable parts of our planet.

Vampire Squid Evolution

The Vampire Squid belongs to a class of animals called the cephalopods. These include the squid, octopus, and nautilus. Further, the Vampire Squid is the only remaining member of the Family Vampiroteuthidae.

The earliest known relatives to any squid can date back to over 350 million years ago. While squids do not have any bones, they do have inner cartridge structures, or called the gladius, which helps support their body. The gladius can in fact fossilize, and thus scientists can date the evolution of this species. There have in fact even been fossilized gladius in the stomach of a swimming dinosaur called the Plesiosaur, which dates back nearly 86 million years ago.

The exact evolutionary tract of the Vampire Squid is currently unknown. The scientific name of the Vampire Squid is Vampyroteuthis infernalis, which literally means squid ‘from hell.’

Vampire Squid Physiology

The Vampire Squid looks like a mix of an octopus and other squid. Thus, they have been classified in their own family.

  • Length about 1 ft (30 cm)
  • Body shape is half a dome/head and then half an umbrella of arms
  • Has two longer (3 ft/90 cm) long arms to reach out and grab food
  • Usually deep red to grey black in color, depending on depth. Squid found deeper tend to be darker
  • Has the LARGEST EYE compared to body size of any species on earth

One of the most surprising survival mechanisms is Vampire Squid live in what is known as the minimum oxygen zone, about 2,000 to 10,000 feet (600 to 3,000 meters) deep. The top layer of the ocean has approximately 4 to 6 mg/l of oxygen. In the water column where Vampire Squid live, it is less than 1 mg/l.

The Vampire Squid gets its name mostly off its looks, rather than its behavior. Since it lives at such depths, it is hardly a fast swimming animal. Rather, to escape predations it exhibits unique defense mechanisms.

One of the first, is the Vampire Squid will pull up its webbed arms and cover its done, exposing what looks like jagged teeth to ward off any predator. The other extremely unique adaptation is its ability to bioilluminate. Meaning, it controls its cells to give off light. The specialized cells, called photophores, give off light which line the mantle of the Vampire Squid and even at the tip of its arms. Additionally, the Vampire Squid can produce a small cloud of glowing particles meant to confuse any predator, allowing it to get away.

Vampire Squid Facts

  • Much of what we know about Vampire Squid is due to ROV, or remote operated vehicles (subs) which dive and observe these animals
  • Their diets mainly consist of detritus, organic matter drifting down from the top water columns. Small jellyfish, plankton, small crustaceans and other smaller marine life have been found in their stomachs
  • Conversely, the Vampire Squid is hunted by seals, whales, and larger fish
  • Have very large gills to survive in the oxygen minimum zone
  • Nothing suggests these marine animals live up to their ‘scary’ names, relatively docile

Conservation Efforts

The total number of Vampire Squid within the Earth’s oceans is currently unknown. However, as ocean acidification and pollution continue, no doubt it is impacting this species survival.

Conservation Tip

Please reduce the use of plastics. Find other ways to store your drinks or food items. Plastic is a major contributor to ocean pollution and is a grave concern.

  • Use your own reusable water bottle
  • Buy products not using plastic packaging
  • Reuse your shopping bags
  • Recycle!

Organizations to Support

Monterey Bay Aquarium


Marine Bio


February 05, 2018

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