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A Vampire’s Embarrassing Secret

Posted by Richard Conniff on December 20, 2013

Vampire squid with yellow tentacle

Vampire squid with yellow tentacle

What do you do when you are one of the scariest looking creatures on the planet, so scary sober-minded scientists named you Vampyroteuthis infernalis, the vampire squid from hell?  You kill, of course.  And kill, and kill, and kill.

But now it turns out that the vampire squid does no such thing.  This very entertaining article from R.R. Helm at Deep Sea News reports that they are vegetarians.

But it’s worse than that:  They are actually scavengers, detritivores, the natural world’s equivalent of dumpster-divers.  Here’s Helm:

Vampire squid–with cloudy blue eyes, a blood red body, and barbed arms– may be the deep sea’s most frightening creature, but according to a new study, it may also be the gentlest. It turns out, this vampire is actually a vegetarian.

The decisive clue to the vampire’s kinder nature came in the form of long, stringy tentacles. For decades scientists puzzled over the mystery of these strange appendages. Are they for mating? Defense? No one knew, until scientists observed the squid doing something altogether surprising. It turns out, vampire squid use these tentacles like fishing lines, but they’re not catching living prey, they’re catching ‘snow’. Vampire squid scoop up sinking ocean gunk, known as marine snow, with their thin yellow tentacles, and then suck it off these appendages (like licking your fingers). This gunk includes bits of algae, dead animals, poo and bacteria from the ocean above.

And while the ‘vegetarian vampire’ story may be distressingly familiar–I can guarantee the vampire squid came up with it first. The lineage that includes the vampire squid has been around since the Jurassic (as in dinosaurs), and while it’s called a squid, its family tree is so old that it’s neither a squid, nor an octopus, but something altogether different. A unique creature living gently in its dark, cold, inhospitable home. Twilight may have made millions in media sales, but it’s got nothing on this real life gentle ocean vampire.

Well, this no doubt sucks for lovers of big, scary animals.  But one other quibble.  Pretty sure squid can’t suck.  With their mouths, I mean.  That’s more a mammal thing.

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