The vampire squid, Vampyroteuthis infernalis, is an old friend around these parts: besides featuring in a synchronicity, it has various attributes that make it a particularly Haunted Shoreline-type creature – for the details, see this previous post. One of its most notable characteristics is that it dwells in regions of the ocean far deeper than those inhabited by any similar creature – places where no light penetrates at all. In fact, until very recently, nobody knew how it managed to stay alive- because nobody knew what it ate. Other cephalopods live in shallower waters and are carnivorous, preying on fish, molluscs, and crustaceans. But none of these are present in significant quantities in the pitch-black regions where V. infernalis makes its home, so quite what it does for nourishment has been an enduring puzzle of marine biology.
So I was intrigued to read that a study team from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, California, have solved the mystery. Their findings are presented in Proceedings of the Royal Society (Biological Sciences), in a paper with the splendid title “Vampire Squid: Detritivores in the Oxygen Minimum Zone“, freely available here (link opens as .pdf). The work was also given considerable publicity beyond the rarefied realm of the academic press (see here and here, for example), the key finding being that V. infernalis sustains itself by feeding on ‘marine snow’, a picturesque term for the detritus of the ocean- dead plankton, algae, fragments of shells and carcasses, faecal matter, and the like.
In other words, the vampire squid survives by transmuting dead and decaying base matter into the very stuff of life itself.
It is therefore… an alchemist.