This lovely animal caught my eye as I was scrolling through a website the other day. As with many, many of the animals on this blog, once I see their names I’m hooked and can’t help blogging about them. After all, who could resist writing a post about the vampire squid?

Vampire squid are found in deep ocean waters – between depths of 300-3,000 m, though most of them are found between 1,500-2,500 m. They live in areas so deep that no light penetrates – pretty ideal for a vampire, don’t you think? They also don’t get a lot of oxygen where they live, as oxygen levels are around 0.22 ml/l (this is known as the oxygen minimum zone). Vampire squid are unique creatures. They share characteristics of both octopi and squid, and so are placed in their own order: Vampyromorphida.

In some lighting, vampire squid have red colouration with bright blue eyes. Definitely not as creepy.  Image credit: National Geographic, MBARI
In some lighting, vampire squid have red colouration with bright blue eyes. Definitely not as creepy.
Image credit: National Geographic, MBARI

The vampire squid isn’t that large, reaching about 30 cm in length. It has eight arms and two filaments that can be retracted or extended beyond the length of the arms. These filaments are covered with sensory cirri, which help the animal navigate its environment. The vampire squid has webbing between its eight arms, giving it a creepy, cloak-like appearance. The reason the vampire squid is called a vampire is partly because of this ‘cloak’, which has a dark black colour. Oh yeah, and they have glowing red eyes. Big glowing red eyes. Relative to body size, vampire squid have largest eyes of any animal in the world.

Even though this squid has a fearsome name (the latin name literally means ‘vampire squid from hell’), they aren’t really that scary. They may have some characteristics of vampires, but they definitely do not suck blood. In fact, the squid doesn’t even hunt. Instead it lives off ‘marine snow’, the dead particles that drift down from the light and life rich waters above.

All the webbing between the squid’s arms makes it hard for the animal to move around in the typical way that octopi and squid normally do. Instead, the squid uses two fins located on its mantle to propel it through the water. To add to its weird appearance, vampire squids are covered in small photophores, which can produce light bursts lasting from a couple of seconds to a few minutes.

These light displays are used to help the squid escape predators. Most of the photophores are located on the squid’s arms, and when the vampire squid feels threatened, it flashes its photophores and then flails its arms wildly. At this point the squid is pretty much safe, because what predator could actually avoid dancing to a deep-sea disco ball? On the rare occasions when the predator doesn’t start dancing, the squid releases a mucous cloud of light and then slips away into the darkness.

I can’t really think of anything much creepier than a black squid with glowing red eyes living in the deepest parts of the ocean. No wonder these guys are known as vampires. Mind you, I’ve always been afraid of deep water so maybe other people wouldn’t be as scared as me.

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