The secrets of the deep sea vampire squid

vampire squid illustration

Vampire squid are unusual in that they are rarely seen, live at extreme depths, from 500 to 3,000 metres, don’t swim so much as float and they get by with little oxygen.

Now scientists have discovered they also have an unusual element in their reproduction.

Unlike other soft-bodied cephalopods who breed at the end of their lives, vampire squid squid alternate between reproductive and resting phases, a pattern of multiple spawning more common among fish.

“Their slow mode of life seems insufficient to support one big reproductive event,” says Henk-Jan Hoving at the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel in Germany.

Hoving and his colleagues were led to the discovery by accident as they were going through vampire squid collections dating back to the 1960s and 1970s at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.

They noticed something unexpected: many of the females had spawned but had no ripe or developing eggs and were in a reproductive resting phase.

“We know very little about deep sea organisms and their life cycle patterns, in particular in the water column of the deep sea,” Hoving says.

“The patterns we know from coastal and shallow water organisms may not apply to deep sea species. We need to enhance our knowledge of deep-sea pelagic organisms and the system they are part [of], since the pelagic deep sea is the largest living space on the planet. A better understanding of this unique marine ecosystem will eventually allow for better development of management and conservation strategies.”

The study is published in the journal Current Biology.

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