LA Review of Books: Colin Dickey on Vampyroteuthis Infernalis: A Treatise
SOMEWHERE ALONG THE COAST of the Monterey Bay, a group of biologists are hunting vampires. In September 2012, the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Biology ran an article by biologists Hendrik J. T. Hoving and Bruce Robison on that most elusive of deep-sea creatures: Vampyroteuthis infernalis, the vampire squid from hell. Living several thousand feet beneath the surface, it reaches a length of barely a foot; its eyes (an inch in diameter) are proportionately the largest of any species in the world. It can survive in extremely low-oxygen environments (it’s the only cephalopod that spends its entire life cycle in the Oxygen Minimum Layer of the ocean), and lives without sunlight; or rather, it produces its own, via bioluminescence, which it uses to startle predators, daze prey, and attract mates. Unusual among members of the order Octopoda, its eight tentacles are connected by a web, giving them the appearance of a hood that it can draw over itself when threatened. It was this cloak-like appearance that led the German naturalist Carl Chun, who was not without a sense of humor, to give it its name in 1903. Later, biologists who found specimens named them Cirroteuthis macrope, Watasella Nigra, and Retroteuthis Pacifica, among others, but Chun’s diabolical moniker came first, and it’s the one that has stuck.