The vampire squid is a curious creature that, at first, seems like it just crawled out of a genuine horror movie, while its name is equally intimidating. In spite of its scary appearance and name, however, this cephalopod dwelling in the deep ocean is known to be quite small – growing to be only about 6 inches in length, while its body resembles more that of a jellyfish, rather than a “genuine” squid. Its large eyes, unique light producing organs and somewhat strange and illusive behavior have turned this “vampire of the deep” a worthy topic of discussion in scientific circles.
Originally discovered in 1903 – and mistakenly described as an octopus – the vampire squid features a pair of large, intricately shaped fins on the top side of its body, resembling wings, while it has no less than eight arms that it can use similarly to a web when it’s attacked. Its gelatinous form makes the vampire squid look very much alike to a jellyfish, and its mode of propulsion through the water also reminds scientists of jellyfish that expel water for the purpose of moving through it more easily in almost the same manner. The squid’s eyes are quite large and can seemingly change color from red to blue – depending on the lighting. Also, a curious feature is represented by the squid’s powerful beak-like jaws that are strong enough to completely destroy the shells of crustaceans.
Commonly found at depths exceeding 600 meters, the vampire squid is an excellent example of a genuine, deep diving marine creature. This species is known to commonly thrive in an area called the oxygen minimum zone (OMZ) – a region of the ocean recognized by its low O2 saturation. To be capable of surviving in this unforgiving environment, the squid has adapted to develop the lowest mass-specific metabolism and most effective hemocyanin binds of all cephalopods. Their significantly larger gills help with this action, while the animal’s increased agility and balance allows for greater freedom and maneuverability obtained with less effort.
Not much is known, as of yet, about the natural behavior of the vampire squid, as observed in its normal habitat. The squid is believed to feed on prawns, cnidarians and various other smaller invertebrate species, while some larger deep diving species are known as its predators – including whales, seals and various types of fish. Unlike most of its cousins living in the more hospitable areas of the oceans, vampire squid have to deal with the low density of prey and harsh environment of the OMZ. As a result, they have also adapted a variety of unique deep-water predator skills and creative hunting techniques based on sudden, erratic movements and trajectories.
The vampire squid is still a very little understood deep water creature. While a few specimens were captured, it was difficult to study anything but their defensive behavior. Most have either been injured or died immediately after capture. Also, very little is known about the reproductive habits of the squid, as well as their development and transition to adulthood. Scientists did manage to at least identify the fact that there may be no actual breeding season in this case and the resizing and repositioning of the fins are a distinctive sign of the squid’s growth and development. However, many researchers admit there isn’t much data to work with, while continuing their attempts to research this unique and mysterious creature.