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In the lab at Santa Barbara Natural History Museum in California, one of the most rare deep-sea creatures sits on the shelves, stuffed into a jar. The lab recently made new discoveries regarding the sex lives of the vampire squid.
The jars that are stuffed with these gelatinous creatures are kept on shelves completely absent of light to simulate their true habitat. In the wild, the vampire squid lives as deep as 3,000 meters below the ocean’s surface with very little oxygen. In order to survive these harsh conditions, the squid have adapted to the darkness and evolved a reproduction method that has actually prolonged their lifetimes, surpassing the lifetimes of most cephalopods (squid and octopi species).
It may come as a surprise after hearing the name of this squid species, that they do not feed on blood or are even predators for that matter. Their primary source of food is plankton, and they are extremely slow moving in the water. Marine biologist Henk-Jan Hoving was studying the interesting diets of the squid when he discovered the surplus of females in comparison to males within the collection in the Santa Barbara lab.
He recently published his research that stated unlike most squid and octopi, the vampire squid has multiple stages of reproduction within its lifetime. Most cephalopods reproduce once within their lifetime and then die soon after they birth. Hoving believes that by reproducing at multiple intervals rather then all at once, the squid are able to preserve energy, which is something extremely hard to come by in such deep waters that lack light and oxygen.
The sex lives of the vampire squid are strange compared to what scientists have previously known regarding the reproductive cycles of other cephalopods. Hoving and his team discovered a few key insights that allowed them to conclude that these squid have multiple stages of reproduction. First, this species has certain periods where females have no fertile eggs in their ovaries at all. This dormant stage allows them to store energy and be able to survive in their harsh environment.
Furthermore, developed eggs can be reabsorbed into the ovaries, which further increases their energy supply. However, the details of these processes, like timing, are unknown. Hoving hopes to conduct further research in the mating trends of these animals; very little is known of deep sea creatures sex and mating trends.
Hoving also discovered that the oldest female specimen in the lab has already undergone 38 spawning cycles, and is only a third of the way through the expected number. This means that these females are expected to leave more than eight years on average, where most squid usually only live up to one year. Whatever these squid are doing to reserve energy and prolong reproduction cycles, it is working.
There are still many unknowns regarding the vampire squid’s strange sex lives. However, the new discoveries that have been made are positive steps towards learning and finding out more about this very interesting, rare species.
Written by Audrey Madden
Photo by Kim Smith – Flickr License