The Straits Times
www.straitstimes.com
Published on Sep 26, 2012
 

Revealed: Secrets of the mysterious vampire squid

 
 

PARIS (AFP) - Biologists on Wednesday said they had unlocked secrets about the vampire squid, a mysterious creature that feeds on the decaying dead in the unlit depths.

The squid is so weird that it is known as a "phylogenetic relic." It has the honour of occupying a taxononomic category all of its own, combining features of octopuses and squids in a unique evolutionary formula that has survived for millions of years. As Vampyroteuthis infernalis - the "Squid from Hell" - it is the only species in the Order Vampyromorpha, where it was placed in 1903.

The 13cm cephalopod lives in temperate and tropical oceans, inhabiting waters at depths between roughly 600 and 90m, a niche habitat where at the lowest levels there is just enough oxygen to support life. It uses huge 2.5cm eyes to detect the slightest gleam of movement, and deploys dark-blue bioluminescence to cloak its jelly-like body from predators below when it drifts at higher depths.

Writing in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, a pair of scientists in California report on 30 years of chance encounters with vampire squids by robot submarine explorers, laborary experiments and dissections. Unlike its latter-day cousins, the vampire squad does not tuck into living prey, they say.