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Vampire Squid Not As Bloodthirsty as Once Thought

Researchers discover deep-sea cephalopods’ diet

The Vampire Squid. (Photo: Kim Reisenbichler © 2005 MBARI)

With its saucerlike blue eyes, dark red hue and web of tissue connecting its tentacles—not unlike Dracula’s cloak—the vampire squid would make a great Halloween costume. But it doesn’t vant to suck your blood, according to researchers from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI).

Scientists have puzzled over the diet of the vampire squid (Vampyroteuthis infernalis) for more than a century—since fisherman first netted the football-sized cephalopods. Some believed the squid, like octopuses and other squids, ate live prey present in its pitch-black, oxygen-deprived deep sea environment. Now, Postdoctoral Fellow Henk-Jan Hoving and Senior Scientist Bruce Robison of MBARI have discovered the squids trap microscopic bits of organic matter with two filaments extending from its mouth.

Hoving and Robison came to their conclusion after poring over museum collections of vampire squid stomach contents and watching videos of live squids. They also employed MBARI’s remotely operated vehicles to collect squids in their temperate/tropical ocean habitat  and kept the specimens alive in the laboratory for months—long enough to view the squids’ eating habits. They discovered that the animals would detect the presence of organic debris nearby and collect the material with their filaments, secrete a coating of mucus around the food, and then pop it into their mouths.

“The vampire squid’s filament is likely a multifunctional organ that is deployed to detect and capture detrital matter but at the same time may detect the presence of predators and perhaps small living prey,” the researchers said in a statement.

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