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Vampire squid ancestor was likely a voracious predator © A. Lethiers, CR2P-SU
© A. Lethiers, CR2P-SU

Vampire squid ancestor was likely a voracious predator

Published: 23rd June, 2022 at 16:00
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Muscular suckers on the extinct cephalopod’s arms suggest it used them to clamp onto moving prey.

Despite their intimidating moniker, modern-day vampire squid (Vampyroteuthis infernalis) lead a pretty laid-back life. They potter around in the deep ocean feeding on drifting organic matter that they catch using sticky cells that cover their long, slender tentacles.


Their Jurassic ancestor, Vampyronassa rhodanica, however, was a different story altogether. V. rhodanica were most likely aggressive predators that actively stalked the deep ocean in search of prey, a study carried out by researchers at Sorbonne University has found.

To make the discovery, the team produced high-resolution 3D scans of three well-preserved V. rhodanica specimens found in La Voulte-sur-Rhône in southern France, and compared them to scans of extant V. infernalis specimens scanned at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

The specimens date back more than 164 million years, are around 10 cm long, and have elongated oval-shaped bodies accented by two small fins.

Fossils of V. rhodanica are incredibly rare as, like their modern-day counterparts, their bodies are largely formed of soft tissue.

The scans revealed that the suckers that lined each of animals’ eight arms and the spine-like fleshy protrusions, known as cirri, that run along the inside of the arms, were much more robust in V. rhodanica compared to V. Infernalis. They also found that the shape of V. rhodanica's arm crown – the structure that forms the base of its arms – was a different shape.

This suggests that V. rhodanica was an active predatory hunter that used its arms to clamp onto their prey before devouring it, the researchers say.

Like V. infernalis, however, the suckers of V. rhodanica were unlikely to be toothed like many modern species of squid.

"We believe that the morphology and placement of V. rhodanica suckers and cirri in the differentiated arm crown allowed V. rhodanica increased suction and sensory potential over the modern form, and helped them to manipulate and retain prey,” said lead researcher Alison Rowe.

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Jason Goodyer
Jason GoodyerCommissioning editor, BBC Science Focus

Jason is the commissioning editor for BBC Science Focus. He holds an MSc in physics and was named Section Editor of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors in 2019. He has been reporting on science and technology for more than a decade. During this time, he's walked the tunnels of the Large Hadron Collider, watched Stephen Hawking deliver his Reith Lecture on Black Holes and reported on everything from simulation universes to dancing cockatoos. He looks after the magazine’s and website’s news sections and makes regular appearances on the Instant Genius Podcast.


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