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Aquarium of the Pacific - Online Learning Center - Species Print Sheet

Conservation Status:  Safe for Now

Climate Change:  Uncertain

Aquatic SpeciesVampire Squid

Vampyroteuthis infernalis Cephalopods

Vampire Squid Notice the row of photophores on the tentacle of the squid. | Used with permission of MBARI
Vampire Squid - popup
Notice the row of photophores on the tentacle of the squid. Used with permission of MBARI

Species In-Depth | Print full entry

At the Aquarium

Although not on exhibit in the Aquarium, the vampire squid is included in our website animal database to expand on the information originally presented in the Wonders of the Deep gallery, which was open from 2013 to 2016.

Geographic Distribution

Tropical to temperate deep seas globally, within latitudes 40 degrees north and 40 degrees south of the equator


Vampire squid are found in temperate and tropical deep-water zones worldwide at depths of 600 to 1200 m (1958 to 3937 ft). The water temperature at those depths is very cold, 2-6o C (35.6 to 42.8 o F). This is the OML (oxygen minimal layer) where there may be less than 5 percent oxygen saturation and little or no light. Most cephalopods cannot go below 50 percent oxygen saturation. To cope with this they use hemocyanin (copper-based blue blood) that binds oxygen very well, and they have a large gill surface area to absorb oxygen. They also have low metabolisms and use very little energy.

Physical Characteristics

Vampire squid have a gelatinous body colored jet black to pale reddish, depending on location and light conditions. It has eight arms that are connected by webbing and each is lined with rows of fleshy cirri (spine-like projections). The distal portion of each arm has suckers. The eyes are large and globular and colored red or blue depending on lighting. Mature adults have a pair of small fins projecting from sides of body furthest from eyes. Beaks, located in the center of the circle of arms, are white. Two pouches containing the tactile filaments are concealed within the webbing between the first and second pairs of arms. These filaments can be extended up to at least twice whole body length. The body surface is covered in poorly developed photophores (light producing organs). The two white spots on their heads are photoreceptors.


Maximum total length: 30 cm (1 ft) .
Body length: about 15 cm (6 in.).
Mantle length: 7.9 to 12.1 cm (3-4.8 in in) .
Females larger than males.


Vampire squid are detritivores, they are the only known living cephalopod that does not catch and eat live animals for food. They eat “marine snow”, detritus that consists of bits of dead planktonic creatures and fecal pellets. They drift along with one filament deployed until contact with food is made, then swim around the food until it is caught. They combine the detritus with mucus from their suckers to make a ball of food, then transfer it to their beaks and eat it.


V. infernalis has no defined breeding season and eggs are found all year. Males insert a sperm packet into the mantles of a female, where it is stored until needed. Fertilized eggs, laid in small masses, average 3.3 mm (0.1 in) across newly laid and float around until they reach hatching size. The transparent hatchlings are about 8 mm (0.3 in) long at birth and closely resemble adults but lack webbing, have small eyes and short velar filaments. They survive on their yolk sacs until they are able to feed themselves.

Hatchlings have one pair of swimming fins, but as they become juveniles they grow a second pair of fins. Once the second pair reaches full size, the first is reabsorbed. This type of metamorphosis is only found in Vampire Squid. V. infernalis parents do not guard their eggs or hatchlings.


Having no ink sacs to use to obscure themselves from predators, the vampire squid draws its tentacles (arms) and webbing backwards up over body into the “pineapple” posture to protect itself. The inside of its mantle is very dark, making the squid invisible in the dark lightless ocean around it. The tips of its tentacles contain photophores, organs that produce clouds of bioluminescent sticky mucus that glow for up to 10 minutes, allowing it to get away from predators.

Top swimming speed of this squid equals two body lengths per second but this speed can only be maintained for a very short period.


To survive in the OML (oxygen minimum layer) of the deep ocean, the vampire squid has a very slow metabolism that causes it to need little oxygen to survive. Its method of feeding uses very little energy and it mostly just drifts instead of actively swimming.

The body of a vampire squid contain statoliths (from the Greek for balancing stones), that keep it neutrally buoyant. This squid has weak muscles and moves using a pair of fins, but when in danger can swim fast by using jet propulsion.


The IUCN Red List has not evaluated the vampire squid. Because it lives and feeds so deeply it is not normally fished and has no economic benefit or detriment to humans.

Special Notes

Episode 26 of the popular children’s program The Octonauts was about meeting an injured vampire squid.

The eyes of the vampire squid are, proportionate to body size, the largest eyes in the animal kingdom.