Vampire Squid Facts You Need to Know!

Adult vampire squid (Vampyroteuthis infernalis). Image credit: Citron, CC-BY-SA-3.0

Vampire Squid Facts You Need to Know!

Adult vampire squid (Vampyroteuthis infernalis). Image credit: Citron, CC-BY-SA-3.0

Few animals have a name as scary as the vampire squid. Just the sound of it makes one think of a huge, deep-sea monster with long arms covered in blood-sucking sharp spines. That, however, isn’t what the vampire squid is. In fact, it is rather small and quite harmless. It is fascinating, though…

Where It Gets its Name

Smithsonian Picture 7 – Vampire Squid by, PD Image.

The scientific name of the vampire squid is Vampyroteuthis infernalis. Translated, this literally means ‘vampire squid from hell’. Now, why would someone name it like that?

‘From hell’ refers to the vampire squid’s hellish habitat in the depths of the ocean while the ‘vampire’ part comes from the squid’s appearance. The vampire squid ranges from blood red to dark purple to black with blue eyes that sometimes appear red, and webbed arms that appear like a dark cloak. Cloak? Red eyes? Living in the dark? Those seem like vampirish, alright. However, let’s make one thing clear. Vampire squid do not feed on blood like the mythical vampires or the vampire bats.

Is The Vampire Squid Really A Squid?

Vampyromorphida – A Vampire Squid (Vampyroteuthis infernalis) drawn by Carl Chun, 1911, PD Image.

The vampire squid is a real animal. But is it really a squid?

The truth is the vampire squid shares traits with both octopuses and squids, which is why it belongs in an order of its own called Vampiromorphida.

Like octopuses, the vampire squid has a round head and webbed arms. Like other squids, it squid has a stiff structure inside its body called the pen or the gladius and two feeding tentacles. The vampire squid also has two small fins on the sides of its head like ears, which it flaps in order to swim, which are commonly found in squids and a few deep-sea octopuses like the dumbo octopus.

How Big Is A Vampire Squid?

3x life-size model of a vampire squid at the Natural History Museum. Image credit: robynneblume cc2.0

A vampire squid isn’t big at all. Well, it might be big compared to the squid you eat but a dwarf compared to the giant squid or the colossal squid. It can grow only up to a foot long at most, half of that its body or mantle and the other half its arms. Vampire squid are believed to grow slowly because there simply isn’t a lot of food where it lives.

Where The Vampire Squid Lives

Diagram showing the divisions of the worlds oceans by Chris huh, PD Image.

The vampire squid can be found in tropical waters all over the world but it isn’t one you’ll likely bump into. After all, the vampire squid lives in the depths of the ocean, about 2,000 to 3,000 feet deep. It is very dark there and very cold, not to mention there is high pressure and little oxygen, a habitat wherein few animals can survive.

Vampire Squid Adaptations

Example of a Hemocyanin by jkirkhart35, cc2.0

The vampire squid’s dark color is an effective camouflage in the darkness. As for dealing with the low oxygen, vampire squid have large gills and blue blood. The blue blood is due to the presence of a substance called hemocyanin, which is a copper-based protein. Now, hemoglobin, the iron-based protein which makes our blood red, might be better at transporting oxygen but in cold environments with little oxygen, hemocyanin is more efficient.

To deal with the high pressure, the vampire squid has a gel-like body which is just as dense as its environment. And what about the lack of food? The vampire squid has one of the lowest metabolic rates among sea creatures, which means it can survive on little food. It also saves energy by simply floating above the ocean floor instead of truly swimming.

Vampire Squid Special Ability #1 – Light Show

Example of bio-luminescence in Firefly squids. You can see the bottom of each squid that shine through the numerous Photospores like the starry sky. Like the firefly squids, this makes vampire squids to try and disguise themselves from predators. Image credit: Andrea.Echeverria, cc3.0

Unlike other squids and octopuses, the vampire squid doesn’t produce ink. Why would it when ink would serve no purpose where it’s already pitch black? Instead, the vampire squid is covered in light-producing cells called photospores and when threatened, it can light up, distracting its predator. The vampire squid can control the intensity and the pattern of its ‘light show’ to suit the situation.

Also, the vampire squid can release a cloud of glowing mucus from the tips of its arms. This cloud is like an explosion of blue fireworks, which can last for as long as ten minutes, dazing the predator and allowing the vampire squid to escape into the darkness. This brilliant display, however, is used only as the squid’s last resort since it consumes a lot of energy.

Vampire Squid Special Ability #2 – Vampire Squid Turns Inside Out

Lighting up in the darkness isn’t always a good thing. Sometimes, the vampire squid’s photospores can do more harm than good. Thank goodness then that the vampire squid has another trick under its sleeve, or more accurately, under its arms. When threatened, the vampire squid is capable of turning inside out, putting its arms over its head to look like a pumpkin or a pineapple. This hides most of its photospores except those at the arm tips, which the predator can attack, since the vampire squid can grow back its arms.

The ‘pineapple posture’ serves two other purposes – it shows the vampire squid’s spines, which, though harmless, can look quite scary and also protects the squid’s head.

Vampire Squid Food – What Is It?

Unusual among squids and octopuses, the vampire squid does not actively search for food or hunt. Instead, it waits for food to come to it. What does the vampire squid eat? Detritus or the waste produced from the decomposition of living matter, especially from the corpses of zooplankton, isopods and amphipods. In this sense, it is more of a scavenger than a predator, though it doesn’t really ‘scavenge’ either but waits for the decaying matter to come to it, grabbing the particles with its feeding tentacles and then combining them with its own mucus to form yummy balls of food.

Predators – What Eats the Vampire Squid?

Giant grenadier (Albatrossia pectoralis) from NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center, PD Image.

Since it is fairly small, the vampire squid regularly ends up on the menu of other deep sea creatures, mainly the giant grenadier and other large rattails. Also, marine mammals who can dive deep, like whales and sea lions, sometimes catch a vampire squid for a meal.

Vampire Squid Reproduction

Not much is known about the reproduction of the vampire squid. However, scientists believe that like in other squids, male vampire squid deposit their sperm inside the female using their arms. The female decides when to use the sperm to fertilize her eggs and when she does, she lays the eggs and broods over them for a period of 13 months. Shortly after, the female, who doesn’t eat at all while taking care of the eggs, dies, having fulfilled her purpose.

The hatchlings, which are less-than-an-inch versions of their mother except for the fact that their arms are not webbed and their skin is transparent, are fully developed and capable of swimming and feeding. They do not search for food at once, though, since a yolk inside their bodies, left over from their hatching, sustains them for the first few weeks.

Vampire Squid are featured in the following books:
25 Deep Sea Creatures
25 Weirdest Animals in the World

The Vampire Squid (MBARI video)

Excellent close-up footage of the vampire squid.

Meet the Vampire Squid

The National Geographic give you lots more information on this amazing creature of the deep.

What the vampire squid really eats

A fascinating and detailed look at how this stunning squid gets its food by MBARIvideo.


To view the complete list of sources, click here…



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