Despite its ghoulish name and looks, the vampire squid (pictured, an individual in 2004) isn't a bloodthirsty terror of the deep after all, a new study says.
Instead, the nightmarishly named species browses on "marine snow"—dead plankton, algae, fecal matter, goo, shells shed by tiny crustaceans, and other detritus.
The squid gather the food particles using two long, hair-lined filaments before wrapping the bits into meal-size mucus balls, according to undersea video footage, live lab observations of captive vampire squid, autopsies, and examination via electron microscope.
"Because of its fearsome appearance, and because all other cephalopods living today are predators, it was thought that [vampire squid], too, were hunting for living prey," said study co-author Henk-Jan Hoving of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) in California.
"We have now found the opposite."
(Related: "Squid Males 'Bisexual'—Evolved Shot-in-the-Dark Mating Strategy.")