Don't be scared of the vampire squid



WOD: detritovore!

Turns out, the squid from hell has the eating habits of a nice, vegetarian Buddhist. (Or, more apropos, Bunnicula.) The squids’ entire diet is made of “marine snow” — floaty little bits of algae, poop, and bacteria.

Eating dead animals (which the actual article says is part of the ‘snow’) is typically inconsistent with being a vegetarian, but I’m sure that nice, vegetarian Buddhists will be pleased to know that eating dead animals and poop is in line with their eating habits.

Seriously, it’s difficult to BB’s complaints about how the mainstream news frequently misrepresents science seriously when stories like seem fairly typical here. Maybe the argument is that this is a fun site and doesn’t have to be accurate the way mainstream, serious media should be? Because blogging isn’t journalism? I don’t know.

Arguably, I’ve misrepresented Buddhists here. But I don’t really see how science has been misrepresented.


“Vampire squid from Hellll - IN 3-D!”

Great: a poop vampire. I’m still afraid of it licking me.

Is this clip from the latest Team Zissou documentary?

As I said above, eating dead animals isn’t vegetarianism. I’ve also never heard of non-human animals being properly described as vegetarians, as I believe the scientific community typically uses terms like herbivore, carnivore, omnivore, detritovore, etc. when describing the feeding habits of animals. In the human context, it’s pretty clear that eating dead animals is not vegetarian. From the article you link to, the diet of vampire squid “includes bits of algae, dead animals, poo and bacteria from the ocean above.” Unless there’s a scientific definition of vegetarianism that includes eating dead animals, there’s both factual and terminological misrepresentation occurring here.

I realise that the Deep Sea News piece you’re linking to also makes the mistake of calling them vegetarian, but I don’t see how their bad reporting could possibly justify replicating it here.

I didn’t call the squid vegetarian. I made a joke about their diets being more like vegetarian Buddhists than blood sucking demons. But I didn’t call the squid vegetarian. In fact, I was intentionally avoiding doing that. I agree that the joke was misleading, so I cut it here. But you seem more upset about the fact that there was a joke, which, well, this is a different type of writing, for a different audience, than what the scientific community does. A joke doesn’t equal bad reporting.


Here, again, is the original quote from your post:

Turns out, the squid from hell has the eating habits of a nice, vegetarian Buddhist. (Or, more apropos, Bunnicula.) The squids’ entire diet is made of “marine snow” — floaty little bits of algae, poop, and bacteria.

I see its eating habits being described as that of a vegetarian, even if you didn’t actually call the squid vegetarian. But I also see that references to dead animals are removed, making it sound pretty vegetarian.

If audiences matter, should science reporting in the NY Times be interpreted differently than reporting in The Daily Mail, which has a very different audience and different objectives? If a piece is meant to be light and fluffy, is accuracy less important? Are there any issues with presenting both long-form, seriously journalistic pieces in the same forum (be it Boing Boing or mainstream media) as short, pithy edutainment pieces? Do we apply different standards based on the format of the individual piece and not the forum and/or author?

I’m just happy someone else remembers Bunnicula.


Thanks for posting this, it was interesting to learn that the ‘Vampire Squid’ is hiding at depth in order to inhabit low oxygen water where potential predators can’t venture, and therefore it’s diet is actually dead plankton. I’d never realised that it’s the low oxygen content of deep water that keeps predators out (as opposed to lack of light, etc) so I learnt something new by reading your article. I’d kind-of assumed that the name ‘Vampire Squid’ was due to the look of the animal rather than a predilection for blood, but it’s good to know what these things get up to.

Seems like a nice little squid. Unlike the terrifying Humboldt squids.

Sometimes, no matter what they’re writing, people use analogies and make jokes that are mistakes and misleading. Which was why I edited this when you pointed it out. I don’t think that deserves a comparison to the Daily Mail.

And, yes, different audiences DO require different styles of writing. Accuracy is still important wherever you go (although, again, mistakes will be made and corrected from time to time). But stylistically, you shouldn’t write the same for everybody. Not everybody is interested in the same details. Not everybody wants to read the same style of writing. I don’t think there’s a problem with that. Nor do I think there’s a problem with posting long, heavily researched original pieces alongside short linky posts to other people’s work.

1 Like

I would largely agree with you that different styles are appropriate for different audiences (and I don’t think I was comparing your piece to the Daily Mail any more than I was to the NYT), but in application things inevitably become more messy. There’s no longer a relatively simple differentiation between scientific papers, newspaper coverage, and earnest blogging: instead, I think we are seeing a definite trend towards short, entertaining Buzzfeedy click-bait: the primary goal is no longer making the facts be as attractive and interesting as possible; but to write pieces that are as ironic, funny, frothy and as pop-culturally relevant as possible—even if at the expense of accuracy. I mean, we can see this even in the Deep Sea News piece you link to, where they explicitly call the squid a vegetarian, even though they contradict this conclusion in the same piece.

Now, this kind of facts-be-damned approach may not be inevitable, but I do think that when there is excessive focus on the audience and making science entertaining there is a much higher risk of inaccuracy. (And I think there a fair number of parallels to awareness-raising campaigns like Kony 2012.)

As Matt Taibbi says, the investment bank Goldman Sachs is like a nice, vegetarian Buddhist latched onto the face of humanity, relentlessly caressing that face… FOREVER!

1 Like

A more proper term would be Omnivore or Detritophage, or Ominvorous Detritophage. Vampyrotheuthis would not turn down a small fish or prawn should one be acquired alive. Far from it, such a tasty morsel is desired as it has more energy that detritus. The trouble is chasing or targeting such tasty food this far down in the water column would use more energy than it is worth. The trick to hanging out down here is to take it easy, chasing food at these depths is best left to visitors.

But of course you should not fear Vampyroteuthis, we all know well what happens to animals humans fear…now that I think of it you should fear the False Catsharks, don’t let the False fool you those and many other Benthopelagic fish are real dangerous…to humans I mean, real dangerous to humans, fear them. Do not fear Vampy.

This topic was automatically closed after 5 days. New replies are no longer allowed.