Vampire squid- Ancient and blood thirsty (for oxygen)

by Matthew Norton

The vampire squid, Vampyroteuthis infernalis, is the only living species within the order Vampyromorpha. Their Latin name translates as the “vampire squid from hell”, but in reality this small squid does not inspire the dread that the name would suggest, with the exception of the smaller planktonic animals they feed on.

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Vampire squid from above (left) and looking into the mouth (right).

However, these are still curious animals. They are often regarded as living fossils among the cephalopods, meaning they closely resemble the ancestor species of squid, cuttlefish and octopuses, although they are a sister group to the octopuses. This is reflected in certain features which appear to combine the features of octopuses and squids and cuttlefish.

A clear example is their feeding apparatus. Like squids they have 10 arms in total, 2 of which have been modified into extendible filaments, and like octopuses there is webbing between their arms, which is believed to the remnant of their shell. These components work together to bring food to the mouth, the extendible filaments detect and capture food which is then passed to the arms, which wrap the food in mucus. Finally the food is carried to the mouth along the web. Alternatively this web could be used to engulf larger prey, similar to how octopuses catch their prey.

Other features which are unique, or at least more developed, in vampire squid are a consequence of the depth at which they live. At 600-1200m down there is a lack of light and oxygen, and so arises a need to compensate, and even make the most of these challenging conditions. They have the largest eyes, relative to body mass, of any animal, which no doubt allows them to see what little light is available. They can also produce light from bioluminescent organs at the tips of their arms and the release of bioluminescent particles to distract predators.

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A vampire squid illustrated with its bioluminescent organs.

To conserve their limited oxygen supply, vampire squid have resorted to a number of extreme measures. Similar to other squid that visit these oxygen poor depths, such as the Jumbo squid, they suppress their metabolism and use a stronger oxygen binding protein, haemocyanin instead of haemoglobin. However, in vampire squid their metabolic rate is especially low and the affinity of haemocyanin to oxygen is especially strong. They further reduce their energy expenditure from swimming through the neutral buoyancy of their bodies and, in adults, their use of fin propulsion, instead of jet propulsion . Females also invest relatively little in the production of their eggs.

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This young vampire squid seems to be doing okay despite the limited energy investment from its mother.

From a human perspective

Vampire squid do not provide us with any material gains, we do not fish them for food, nor do we harvest them for any other valuable substances. However this species has proven to be a source of artistic inspiration and features in an illustration, called “fight the vampire squid”, of the Occupy Wall Street protest movement against economic inequality. Specifically this illustration is targeted against individuals and corporations that participate in greed, corruption and undue influence on government.

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Occupy Wall Street protests in Washington DC, USA.

However, this illustrations portrays the vampire squid in a negative light that is disproportional to its nature, and has little in common with those that the Occupy movement targets in their protests. True, they do prey on smaller and weaker marine creatures, but this essential to their survival. Sadly this is not the only case of a marine animal being portrayed negatively to define a certain persons, or persons. A common example is of the use of the term “loan shark” to portray disreputable money lenders that exploit their ‘customers’, which exacerbates the undeserved reputation that sharks get.

Still, it is a testament to the creativity that the marine environment, and its inhabitants, can inspire, even for those who are unaware of most of its diversity. It goes without saying that this is especially true in coastal cities and communities, but some of the oceans’ influence can to nationwide, if not worldwide scales.

(Rev) vampire squid thanks for reading
Thanks for reading


Marine Bio. Vampire Squid, Vampyroteuthis infernalis. Laast accessed 15/11/2017

Hoving et al. 2012. Vampire squid: detritivores in the oxygen minimum zone

Robison et al. 2003. Light Production by the Arm Tips of the Deep-Sea Cephalopod Vampyroteuthis infernalis

Seibel et al. 1999. Vampire blood: respiratory physiology of the vampire squid (Cephalopoda: Vampyromorpha) in relation to the oxygen minimum layer

Rosa and Seibel. 2010.  Metabolic physiology of the Humboldt squid, Dosidicus gigas: implications for vertical migration in a pronounced oxygen minimum zone

Seibel. 2013. The jumbo squid, Dosidicus gigas (Ommastrephidae), living in oxygen minimum zones II: Blood–oxygen binding

Wikipedia. 2020. Occupy Wall Street. Last accessed 15/11/2017

Mason. 2012. Does Occupy signal the death of contemporary art? Last accessed 15/11/2017

Vecchione and Young. 1997. Aspects of the functional morphology of cirrate octopods: locomotion and feeding

Collins and Villanueva. 2006. Taxonomy, ecology and behaviour of the cirrate octopods

Hoving et al. 2015. Vampire squid reproductive strategy is unique among coleoid cephalopods

Seibel et al. 1997. Decline in pelagic cephalopod metabolism with habitat depth reflects differences in locomotory efficiency

Young et al. 1998. The evolution of coleoid cephalopods and their present biodiversity and ecology

Image sources

Citron. 2010. [CC BY-SA 3.0 (].

Bruno Sanchez-Andrade Nuño from Washington, DC, USA. 2011. [CC BY 2.0 (].

All other images are public domain and do not require attribution

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