Species Highlight: Vampyroteuthis

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October 31, 2017 by katerinazapfe, posted in Animals, Bio diversity, Deep sea, Sea monsters

 

Myths and legends abound around our fascination with the deep, a cold, dark, mysterious environment famous for its limited habitability. This environment hardly conjures up feelings of home, but a few organisms have evolved to call it just that, and they often look eerily like the nightmare fuel that first jumps to mind. One such deep-dweller is a fleshy, blue-eyed tentacled mass of cephalopod: the vampire squid. Cephalopods are curious creatures, categorized under the class Mollusca and include octopus, nautilus, and, of course, squid. Vampire squid are actually not true squid, but belong to a more distant lineage. Its name, vampyroteuthis infernalis, literally translates to ‘vampire squid from hell’, and is grounded more in appearance than habit.

Cephalopods are famous for their rapid color shifting ability, intelligence and general ‘weird animal’ appeal. The vampire squid is certainly a contender to win the latter reputation. Its body is soft and flexible, easily coping with the massive pressure levels. It is so perfectly adapted to life at the depths, it’s body density matches that of the surrounding waters, almost eliminating energy expenditure that would have been allocated towards buoyancy control. As if that wasn’t unique enough, this squid has multiple other adaptations catering to life in a pitch black watery desert. The deep sea, despite images of hydrothermal vents teeming with localized pockets of life, is vastly sparse. Energy input is extremely limited, and so are its inhabitants. Most energy that reaches these depths arrives in the form of marine snow (detritus formed from the feces and remnants of deceased marine life, often plankton), and the occasional serendipitous whale fall.

To make the most of marine snow meals, our vampire squid must conserve energy as much as possible. It cruises slowly through the water, propelling itself by flapping fins located on its sides and extending each of its feeding filaments, long appendages that collect marine snow and stow away in a pocket between its arms. Despite its fearsome name it has a smaller body size, (approximately a foot in length), and entirely uninterested in sucking blood from its fellow deep-sea creatures. It has more to fear from becoming a meal itself. When the squid senses it has an unwanted companion, it inverts its bell-shaped arms, covering its body and eyes, and displays rows of soft but fearsome looking spikes under each arm. Each arm tip bioluminesces to attract attention away from vital organs, and if necessary a plume of flashing mucus provides cover for escape. Sightings of these squid are rare, but beaks have been reported in the stomachs of deep diving seals and whales, and advances in deep sea exploration continue to turn up more of these fascinating creatures. Fueled by discoveries like this living relic, our fascination with the weird and wonderful creatures of the deep remains very much intact.

#deepsea, #seamonsters, #biodiversity

Richard Hyman