Halloween Week: Vampyroteuthis infernalis
October 26, 2009
I can’t think of a better way to kick off Halloween Week than with a look at Vampyrotheuthis infernalis, the enigmatic deep-sea cephalopod whose name literally means “vampire squid from hell!”
V. infernalis is the only known living representative of the Order Vampyromorphida, and, despite the common name “Vampire Squid,” it is considered a closer relative to the Octopoda (octopuses) than the Decapodiformes (squids and cuttlefish). It is also not actually a vampire, but this small (~1 foot long) cephalopod is still wonderfully creepy.
- It lives in the lightless ocean depths (2,000-3,000 ft.)
- Its body has a jellyfish-like gelatinous consistency
- Its color ranges from jet-black to blood-red
- It has eight webbed arms, tipped with suckers and lined with fleshy spines (called cirri), and two retractable sensory filaments
- When threatened, it inverts its “cloak” so that the cirri point outwards in a menacing fashion
- Adults have two ear-like fins, but during development there is stage where they have four, a condition unique among cephalopods
- Its skin is covered with light-producing photophores, as are its unpigmented arm tips, which can also produce a luminescent cloud of glowing particles suspended in a mucus matrix
- Its milky-blue eyes have sphincter-like “eye lids”
The Vampire Squid is sometime referred to as a “phylogenetic relict” because it possesses features thought to have been shared by the primitive ancestors of both octopuses and squids. Fossils from Middle Jurassic deposits in France indicate that vampyromorphids go back at least 165 million years.