What the vampire squid really eats
100 Comments


Squids and octopods, also known as cephalopods,
use an intriguing variety of feeding strategies to pursue and capture food. What they all
have in common though, is the fact that they hunt for living prey. This paradigm has recently
shifted with a discovery by scientists at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
(MBARI), who studied the feeding habits and behavior of the elusive vampire squid. The vampire squid is an ancient animal that
shares characteristics with both squids and octopods. Vampire squid have eight arms, two
long filaments and a cloak-like web, but they lack the feeding tentacles used by many squid
for capturing prey. When disturbed they wrap their arms around their body exposing rows
of spiny looking projections, and drastically changing their appearance. Their scientific
name, Vampyroteuthis infernalis, was given to them more than a century ago. In all that
time no one knew exactly what or how the vampire squid eats, until surprising details on their
feeding were revealed in a paper by MBARI researchers. Using remotely operated vehicles, over the
past 25 years, MBARI has observed nearly 200 individual vampire squid in their natural
ocean habitat. Vampire squid were frequently observed drifting motionlessly, with their
fins gently undulating, and one of their two filaments extended. The function of these
long, retractile filaments has puzzled marine biologists for years. During feeding experiments
in the lab back on shore, food particles were found to adhere to the filament and vampire
squid were observed repeatedly drawing a food-covered filament between their arms, removing particles,
and depositing them near their mouths. Stiff, microscopic hairs on the filament likely function
to secure particles, while a layer of sensory cells may signal the presence of food to the
brain. After drawing the filament between their arms, the food is wrapped in mucus secreted
from glands in the suckers, then finger-like projections called cirri move the resulting
mass towards the mouth. In their natural environment, marine snow, or sinking organic particles,
were found on the squids’ filaments, arms, or in their mouth. Ingestion of marine snow
aggregates was further confirmed by examination of the stomach contents of animals from museum
collections. The ingestion of non-living food is unknown for any other cephalopod. Vampire squid are typically observed at depths
with very low levels of oxygen, also known as oxygen minimum zones. Most other animals
become stressed or die in the extreme oxygen conditions found in these regions. However,
vampire squid have developed several adaptations that enable them to live successfully where
there is little oxygen. The dark appearance of vampire squids reduces their visibility
to predators and therefore the need for rapid escape. They also have several types of bioluminescent
display, which may deter predators. Vampire squid are neutrally buoyant and they have
very low metabolic rates. All these adaptations reduce the need for investment in muscle tissue
for locomotion, and save energy. The vampire squid’s remarkable ability to
feed as a passive detritivore sets them apart from other cephalopods and gives them yet
another energy-conserving advantage for a life in the oxygen minimum zone. This hostile
environment supports few animals, but aggregates of marine snow sinking from the water above
are plentiful. Using its many unique adaptations, the vampire squid thrives in the center of
the oxygen minimum zone, where its food source is abundant, and predators are few.

100 thoughts on “What the vampire squid really eats

  1. Hmmm. Using one strand to catch detritus seems very very inefficient. Would using it's arms not be a vastly superior way to catch falling particles?

  2. Something sharp just poked me at the end of my bed on my foot and my heart just dropped 💀 update: it was a Bobby pin

  3. I don't know about what was observed and the conclusions that followed. First issue is they idea that these special filaments developed for feeding on detritus. Every evolutionary limb had to evolve in steps in a way to better the animals survival. For example, bird wings. Feathers evolved to give better insulation. Stiffening and elongation of these feathers help animals glide short distances. Finally, wings evolved for full flight. Notice that the original function of the feathers never disappeared. Feathers still insulate and they help many species glide. In the squid, I don't see these filaments helping the Vampire feed better or how their developed gradually for the purpose of feeding. No other squid has these filaments so its not like a limb common in other squid that got adapted for feeding purposes in the Vampire. Second, the idea that this filament is used to gather detritus is unrealistic. It is too ineffective to use as a primary method of gathering food. All animals that gather small spread out particles use a filtering system. I bit they are snares to catch fish by actually sticking to them like jellyfish tentacles or as a feeler to sense when prey is close. It would be interesting to see if they contain poison. I bet the filaments are modified feeder tentacles of squid that have evolved to detect and snare rather than shooting out to grab like in other squids. This idea makes more sense that filaments independently evolved for feeding on detritus.

  4. We can learn all this about the most mysterious creatures on Earth but we can't figure out how to get Dutch people to pronounce "th" 🤔

  5. I wonder what it feels like to float about in the dark abyss while practically motionless for a whole life time 🤔🦑.

  6. Thanks Hank, I really enjoyed that presentation. I was thinking this morning about the work that the EV Nautilus has been doing for years invarious oceans around the Americas. Seeing all the life forms made me think about how people speak of gods creation of mankind (of course you may not be one who does, but many do), and how the animals they photograph in the ocean depths are so ancient, and so many 100's of millions of years older than humans, that they must have been made by a different god. 🙂

  7. Did I just miss it or did they just say it occasionally ate marine snow and nothing else about what it eats other than that?

  8. Humans: <discover squid with freakish barbs on its tentacles, a giant skirt-mouth, glowy eyes, tendency to make itself look like it's imploded> "THIS IS A MOTHERFUCKING VAMPIRE SQUID."
    Vampire squid: <Is actually the laziest, least-monstrous, most chill squid in the entire world> "Why you guys gotta stigmatize us like that, maaaaan?"

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