Nightmarish but somewhat inaccurately named squid

Posted: September 4, 2014 in Molluscs

Well, it has been a long time, but this blog is now back. You can cease now from rending your garments and howling in anguish at the uncaring heavens, and instead sit down and calmly read about the many, many, many, many horrific abominations nature has inflicted upon us, before returning to rending your garments and howling in anguish at the uncaring heavens.

The abomination this particular blog is focusing on is called Vampyroteuthis infernalis, which literally translates as the ‘Vampire Squid from Hell’, and which is more commonly called the Vampire Squid, for reasons which are actually somewhat obscure. On a side-note, Vampire Squid from Hell is now the name of the Death Metal band I have decided to form just now, purely on the basis of that name. It has also been used as a metaphor for the bank Goldman Sachs, which is ridiculous as Cephalopoda are terrible at banking.

Although they do run most utility companies in the UK.

But it is a pretty good name, isn’t it? If you were out to design a name that summed up a rather diabolical looking critter ‘Vampire Squid from Hell’ has to me near the top of the list (perhaps pipped into third place by ‘Spider-wolves’ and ‘Bloodworm’.) Very few things that come from ‘Hell’ are generally soft or cuddly. Vampires, excepting the last decade or so, are walking, blood drinking corpses. And squid (and related Cephalopoda) are just generally creepy. Perhaps it is the tentacles, or the odd flashes of high intelligence that some species show, or perhaps the explanation is simply that Lord Cthulhu has poisoned our minds with His nightmarish psychic assaults from His tomb beneath the waves.

 

 

 

Most scientists also say He is a major contributor to underwater landslides and decreases in fish stocks (imagecredit: Deviantart, JohnDotegowshi).

So really, it is a shame that this name really doesn’t describe the animal. On the plus side, this name really doesn’t describe the animal. For a start, it isn’t from hell, but instead from seas all over the world. It can usually be found dwelling six hundred to eight hundred metres deep, in what is called the Mesopelagic zone or, if you want to be needlessly ominous, the twilight zone. Although not as extreme an environment as the deeper sea, it is dark enough that photosynthesis cannot occur, and so the food chain is ultimately dependent on the upper waters; with organic debris (often given the deceptively cute nickname of ‘marine snow’) falling down and getting eaten. More specifically, it dwells in the Oxygen Minimum Zone, where the concentration of oxygen in the seawater is at its lowest.

Generally, nothing good lurks in any sort of ‘Zone’. (Photo: National Geographic).

Whilst you might think that oxygen would be lower the deeper you go, this is only partially true. The deep water is generally colder than upper layers, and cold water holds more oxygen . Meanwhile, aerobic (oxygen using) bacteria feed on the marine snow, using up oxygen in the process; but most marine snow is consumed fairly high up. So deeper, colder waters may hold more oxygen than the layers above, because the water is colder and there is less marine snow to be consumed.

Anyway, the Vampire Squid is well adapted to these conditions. Its blood pigments bind oxygen far more effectively than the compounds present in other animals, and it has large gills, to soak up as much oxygen as possible. It also has a generally slow and sedate lifestyle, which reduces oxygen loss. Although it can be agile, this only occurs over short distances, and most of the time it just drifts through the waters.

So, it isn’t from hell. Nor, indeed, is it a vampire; instead, it feeds, uniquely amongst cephlapods, on small dead animals, excrement, and other organic waste, rather than living prey. As its arms are connected by a web of flesh, the vampire squid captures food by dangling long (up to eight times the length of the animal’s football sized body) filaments through the water, to which marine snow sticks. The vampire squid then transfers the food to its ‘web’, where is is covered in mucus, collected into larger and larger amounts, and eventually swallowed, which perhaps is the first time the words ‘vampire’, ‘squid’ and ‘web’ have been used in a sentence which was not immediately followed by screaming. Although this diet may not be that nutritious, it at least means it doesn’t use up that much energy. Indeed, even its predator avoidance tactics are a tad lazy. When threatened by predators, it wraps itself in its web, making it appear larger and covered with spikes. As well as this, bioluminiscent patches on the tips of its arms glow blue, confusing predators. Finally, if ‘turning into a spikey deathball’ and ‘trippy light show’ don’t work, it simply squirts out a cloud of mucus, mixed with bioluminiscent bacteria, and escapes in the confusion.

A vampire squid almost looking cute. (Photo: National Geographic).

A vampire squid looking rather less cute. (Photo: mythsmadereal.blogspot).

Finally, it isn’t actually a squid. It has eight arms, but is not an octopus either, although it is more closely related to them. Instead, it is in a group called the Vampyromorphida which consists entirely of this species and a number of extinct ones.

Again, scientists favour the ‘Cthulhu’ theory.

 

 

In short, the name ‘Vampire Squid from Hell’ scores 0/3 for accuracy, but 100/10 for nightmarish visions. And after all, isn’t promoting a sense of dark horror the main point of taxonomy?

Again, a number of good sources are:

http://www.thecephalopodpage.org/vsfh.php

http://www.thecephalopodpage.org/vampy.php

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn22299-vampire-squid-from-hell-eats-faeces-to-survive-depths.html#.VAjS7PldU2Y

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/01/100203-squid-vampire-threatened-video/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S3CJIKKSUpg

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