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The Little Blue-Eyed Vampire from Hell

de Richard Ellis

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Renowned marine conservationist Richard Ellis gives a fascinating account of the vampire squid. Named Vampyroteuthis infernalis ("the vampire squid from Hell") by its nineteenth-century discoverer because of its sinister appearance, it is neither a vampire nor a true squid, and lives in the deep ocean where few humans ever catch sight of it. A unique, stunning creature, it is sometimes called a "living fossil," and it can light up or turn inside out at a moment's notice.… (mais)
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This book should be entitled, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Cephalopods - which, if you have a thing for cephalopods, is never enough.

This is the first book that I've gotten through Netgalley. When I saw this was available and that Richard Ellis had written it (I've been meaning forever to read some of his stuff), I knew I had to sign up to see if I was eligible. I'm so glad I did!

Though the book is titled based on the vampire squid (not quite a squid, not quite an octopus, but in its own category), it covers more than just this elusive, fascinating creature. It actually discusses cephalopods in general, focusing on octopuses (I still miss saying 'octopi') and squid.

I've always been fascinated by cephalopods, and octopuses in particular. They are extremely intelligent, especially for being invertebrates. If you search for 'octopus intelligence' in Google, you'll see all kinds of fascinating articles and web sites come up. If you are interested, I'd definitely recommend the Sy Montgomery piece on octopuses from Orion Magazine last year, Deep Intellect, which went viral (as viral as a magazine article can go, I guess) towards the end of 2011.

Ellis spends time discussing the history of the discovery of the vampire squid, its anatomy, evolution, and characteristics, while comparing and discussing other cephalopod species. The book also includes photography and illustrations. So if you get this book on the Kindle, try to view it on the computer or through some other tablet, so you don't miss the color pictures. The black and white of the Kindle don't do them justice and you miss a lot of details.

Though reading information about various cephalopods and their biology seems like a boring endeavor, somehow Ellis makes it seem really interesting. The book at times seems conversational, which also keeps your attention. He also sprinkles bits of dry, subtle humor throughout, which I really enjoyed.

For example: "Squid don't need a breath of air - they breathe water through their gills, like fishes - but several squid species can and do leave the water; mariners in all oceans occasionally find little squid on the decks after a night of sailing. The Humboldt squid (Dosidicus) has also been observed to get itself airborne; if a hundred-pound, ink-squirting, beak-snapping squid lands on your deck, you might have a bit of a problem."

One thing that this book helped me unlearn was the idea that sperm whales and giant squid have epic underwater battles in the deep ocean:

Scars from these teeth [chitinous teeth on the suckers of giant squid!] are often seen on the skin of sperm whales, which has led to the belief that titanic battles between these two giants take place in the deep, but it is now fairly certain that the only reason the squid left those scars was because it was struggling - often unsuccessfully - not to be eaten.

Another interesting thing I learned is that Jaron Lanier is a fan of cephalopods. I met Lanier once; he's an interesting person. So odd, how two seemingly unrelated things can come together.

There's no better way to sum up then this:

The dense, liquid kingdom of the octopus and the squid is another world altogether; a world denied to earth-bound mammals like us: we cannot breathe what they breathe, move the way they move, see the way they see, communicate the way they do. Beneath the surface of the oceans, there lives an alien culture, with multiple arms, multiple brains, and multiple ways of solving the problems of staying alive, more like the modus vivendi that one might encounter on one of Jupiter's watery moons. The naturalist Henry Beston was probably not talking about octopuses when he the following, but he might well have been: "In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time; fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth."

Note: I received a copy of the ebook through Netgalley. ( )
  preetalina | Nov 11, 2012 |
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Renowned marine conservationist Richard Ellis gives a fascinating account of the vampire squid. Named Vampyroteuthis infernalis ("the vampire squid from Hell") by its nineteenth-century discoverer because of its sinister appearance, it is neither a vampire nor a true squid, and lives in the deep ocean where few humans ever catch sight of it. A unique, stunning creature, it is sometimes called a "living fossil," and it can light up or turn inside out at a moment's notice.

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