Spooky Tidbits from Land and Sea

Question: What deepwater denizen lives at depths of 3,000 feet or more, deep in the abyss where no light penetrates? Looking like something that swam out of a late-night science fiction movie, for its size, it has the largest eyes proportionately of any animal in the world. Its body is covered with a remarkable series of light-producing organs (photophores) that give it the ability to essentially turn itself on or off at will. When its lights are off, it is completely invisible in the dark waters where it lives. When threatened, this animal draws its 10 webbed arms (which are covered with sharp tooth-like spikes) up over itself to form a defensive cape that covers its body, giving it an appearance resembling Count Dracula.

Answer: VAMPIRE SQUID – scientific name, Vampyroteuthis infernalis, translates to “Vampire Squid From Hell.” This creature has some remarkable predator avoidance abilities – both a visually disorienting photophore lighting system making it difficult to tell one end of the vampire squid from the other, and a mucus cloud it ejects containing thousands of glowing spheres of blue bioluminescent light. When the light show ends, the squid disappears and it’s difficult to tell if the black vampire squid has flown away in the dark (and if so, in which direction), or whether it has merely faded into the lightless waters where it lives.

Pacific Hagfish
Question: What spineless primitive creature has a tongue with two pairs of rasps that it uses to first snag and then tear the flesh from the carcasses of their victims as they devour their prey from the inside out? With their very slow metabolisms, after eating they may not need to feed again for up to seven months. This deep sea creature lacks jaws, true eyes or stomach, and lives in muddy sea floors. It overwhelms any prospective predators by exuding massive amounts of sticky, yucky slime. Despite these disgusting character traits, the skin of these creatures is often used to make expensive boots, bags, wallets and purses.

Answer: PACIFIC HAGFISH, or as they’re more commonly known, “SLIME EELS.”

All About Bats
Question: What hairy creatures thrive by the dark of night and have so many cousins that almost one-quarter of all the world’s more than 4,000 species of mammals are relatives? Worldwide, they are the most important natural predators to some of our most annoying night-flying enemies. They strike fear in many due to nasty reputations that have endured through the ages because of unfortunate misconceptions and myths.

Answer: BATS. A colony of 150 big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus) can protect local farmers from up to 33 million or more rootworms each summer. Vampire bats also get a bad rap, but they’ve been known to adopt orphaned bats, to risk their lives to share food with less fortunate bat roost mates, and perhaps most interesting, the anticoagulant in their saliva may soon be used to treat human heart patients.

Ghost Shrimp
Question:What spooky fishing bait lives its life in complex tubular branching burrows in muddy and sandy sediments?


Tarantula Spider
Question:What hairy creature consumes their prey by first injecting it with a caustic mix of digestive enzymes and then, through stomach muscle contractions and a narrow straw-like mouth, generates a powerful sucking action that pulls the now liquefied vital organs from its helpless prey?


Dead Man’s Fingers
Question: What dark brown spongy intertidal California seaweed dangles from the tops and sides of rocks, and was at one time used as packing material for shipping live marine invertebrates?

Answer: DEAD MAN’S FINGERS. Its spotted, elongated, cylindrical branches resemble withered and callused fingers.

Question: What animal launches into a “broken wing” charade, dragging itself off with one wing twisted against its back to lure predators away from their young?

Answer: KILLDEER, the most widespread of all California shorebirds.

Bat Rays
Question:What animal flaps its large, flat appendages when swimming and eats by beating them on the seabed to unearth worms and clams that they then munch with their strong, flat teeth adapted for crunching hard shelled clams?

Answer: BAT RAYS.

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Carrie Wilson is a marine biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game. While she cannot personally answer everyone’s questions, she will select a few to answer each week. Please contact her at CalOutdoors@dfg.ca.gov.

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