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Today in Accidental Scientific Discoveries: Vampire Squid Fossil

A team of paleontologists in Prague found a mysterious remnant that reaches far back in time, and deep into the ocean: a 30-million-year-old fossil of the notorious vampire squid. And while the living squid—which earns its moniker from the crimson web of skin connecting its arms—is certainly strange, this natural talisman of the past should help to shed light on its origins.

Gizmodo reported on the discovery, which the team made by accident while combing through long-lost fossil collections in 2019. The team was sorting through fossils at the Hungarian Natural History Museum when it discovered the ancient imprint. (Hungarian paleontologist Miklós Kretzoi found the fossil in 1942, naming the creature Necroteuthis hungarica.)

A team of scientists in Hungary has discovered a 30-million-year-old vampire squid fossil.

Martin Košťák, et al. 

“It was a great moment to see something previously suggested to be definitely lost,” Martin Košťák, a paleontologist at Charles University in Prague, said in an email to Live Science. Košťák, who co-authored the study outlining the discovery in the journal Communications Biology, found the treasure while sorting through cuttlefish fossils.

Košťák and his colleagues say the sediment surrounding the imprint of the 14-inch-long squid lacks microfossils; suggesting that the squid was not living in shallow waters. This is an important insight, as it hints that vampire squid already lived in the deep oceans during the Oligocene; an epoch spanning 34 to 23 million years ago.

If that theory is correct, the fossil fills in the squid’s lineage between the Jurassic and our present epoch. And evinces the idea that the vampire squid evolved in oxygen-deprived waters during the Early Jurassic before moving into the deep oceans.

“This means that the [vampire squid’s] ancestors were inhabitants of shallow-water environs, but they were already adapted to low-oxygen conditions.” Košťák added in his email to Live Science. “The major differences is that these oxygen-depleted conditions were established in the shelf, [a] shallow water environment.”

A team of scientists in Hungary has discovered a 30-million-year-old vampire squid fossil.

Martin Košťák, et al. 

As far as more exact timeframe for when vampire squid crept into the ocean’s depths, that’s still unclear. But this fossil helps support the idea the squid shifted to the unwelcoming environment nearly 150 million years ago; an idea that would also explain how the disturbing creature survived the extinction event that annihilated the dinosaurs. Although that conflicts with our theory the vampire squid survived all this time by preying on denizens of Bikini Bottom.

Featured Image: MBARI/Martin Košťák, et al.