Vampire squid no Gordon Gekko

Vampyroteuthis infernalis not all that rapacious

An ominously named creature of the deep that has come to signify the most predatory aspects of Wall Street turns out to be more of a dumpster-diving scavenger than a blood-sucking predator.

A vampire squid, which is neither a true squid nor a vampire, floats in its typical feeding posture with a long, pale filament extended in the water to collect drifting tidbits. © 2011 MBARI

Vampyroteuthis infernalis came to broader attention in 2009 when Rolling Stone compared one investment bank to a “great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”

Webbing between the animal’s eight arms does flare out a bit like a funnel, but the vampire squid’s “blood funnel” is pure fantasy. But how V. infernalis, not a true squid but an oddball relative, feeds and what it does with its two long, distinctive filaments has been a puzzle.

The supposedly relentless hunter just waits to glean whatever debris sinks to its level, marine biologists report online September 26 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The animals extend the filaments to snag whatever brushes against them, such as crumbs of falling fish or crustaceans, castaway filmy parts or even fecal pellets, says Henk-Jan Hoving of the Monterey Bay Research Institute in Moss Landing, Calif. Then the animals reel in a filament and use their eight arms to scrape off the marine equivalent of dust bunnies.

Hoving and Monterey colleague Bruce Robison suggest that this low-energy approach lets vampire squid spend much of their lives in low-oxygen water .
Susan Milius

Susan Milius is the life sciences writer, covering organismal biology and evolution, and has a special passion for plants, fungi and invertebrates. She studied biology and English literature.

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