With the possible exception of Iman Shumpert, vampire squid have what is probably the coolest name in the entire universe. But is it possible that a vampire squid isn't a vampire or a squid?
It's possible. Take a look at this image of a vampire squid between these two photos of famous vampires. How many resemblances do you see?
Chances are, not many. Unlike vampires, vampire squid do not suck blood, they do not turn into bats, and they do not compete with werewolves to try to get teenage girls to date them. Vampire squid have the name “vampire squid” because this guy:
...looked enough like this:
...that he decided to name them this:
...which means “Vampire squid from heck” (Well, almost).*
So except for a passing resemblance, vampire squid aren’t much like vampires. But, are they squid?
Sort of. Take a look at this vampire squid next to these whip-lash squid:
Now look at the vampire squid next to this common octopus:
Dr. Chun thought the vampire looked more like a squid than anything else, so he decided to call it a squid, but you may have noticed that in some ways a vampire squid looks like a squid and in some ways it looks like an octopus. The truth we now know is that a vampire squid isn’t quite a squid or an octopus, though it is related to both. A vampire squid has eight arms like both squid and octopus do, but it does not have two tentacles like squid do (octopi don't have two tentacles either). Vampire squid do have two long, stringy arm-like things called filaments. Neither octopus nor true squid have those.
So, a vampire squid isn’t a vampire and it’s not really a squid. What is the moral of this blog post then? Don’t always trust that an animal’s name is giving you the facts about that animal. Vampire squids may not be afraid of garlic, jellyfish may not taste good with peanut butter, and screech owls may not look like a character on Saved by the Bell. Common names for animals are basically just nicknames and, like the horrible nickname you’re going to get when you go to high school, common names sometimes can create an inaccurate idea about what an animal is really like.
* Way back in 1903, marine biologist Dr. Karl Chun was the first person to discover vampire squids, so he got to name them.
Learn more about vampire squid in my book A Day in the Deep.
Online references and resources:
Biodiversity Heritage Library. "Deep Sea Dredging in the Twilight Zone With Teuthologist Carl Chun" article.
The Encyclopedia of Life. "Vampyroteuthis infernalis: Vampire Squid."
The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. "The Vampire Squid - An Ancient Species Faces New Dangers in the Deep" video.
NOAA. "The Vampire Squid and the Vampire Fish" article.
Science Friday. "The Vampire Squid From Hell" video.
The Tree of Life web project. "Vampyroteuthidae."
Photos and Images:
Click the photos and images used above to find their sources.