Is the vampire squid an octopus or a squid?

Here’s another simple but difficult question that came up this week on Twitter prompted by cephapodologist @Thomas_Clements¬†reaction to a tweet put out by the team behind the E/V Nautilus deep sea rover twitter account¬†which used a popular science fact about vampire squid which read as such:

Did you see it?! We had an extended visit with a Vampyroteuthis infernalis (literally meaning “vampire squid from hell”). Neither a squid nor octopus, this fierce-sounding cephalopod actually fishes for marine snow using two retractable filaments and mucus-covered suckers!

Now, as you may have gathered from the title of this post, the bit I’m interested in is the ‘fact’ about vampire squid being neither an octopus or a squid. It’s a common enough fact you can find out and about in the edutainment and sci-comm resources and there’s something about the trope of telling people that a name we’ve just told them doesn’t mean what it is commonly assumed to which science communicators love. Whether or not ‘not facts’ help with engagement or learning I remain to be convinced.

Thomas, who surely knows his nidamental glands from his accessory nidamental glands, quoted the tweet stating that vampire squid are in fact octopuses. At this point I got involved too possibly disagreeing with him, although even with 280 characters discussions went around in circles. So. Once and for all. Are vampire squid octopuses, squid or neither and can we change the flipping name in any case? Because like starfish vs sea stars it’s a waste of valuable attention time telling people what something isn’t rather than what it is. Continue reading

The PhylaRap

Last week I was asked to do a Museums Showoff set and I’d been tweeting about a Phyla Rap I’d been writing on the bus to pass the time. Museums Showoff if you don’t know, is an open mic night for people who work in and love museums to shout about what they do. I decided that agreeing to do a set would prompt me to write a bit more of the Phyla Rap and perform it for the first time.

Combining the misogyny of popular music and the principles of Linnean taxonomy, it went down surprisingly well and hopefully some of the audience learned a little bit about taxonomy and animal groups off the beaten track. I reproduce it in full here, but bear in mind that a) This is a performance meant for a room full of people that had been drinking for some hours and b) Is supported by hilarious visuals which I haven’t reproduced all of here c) It’s about a third done so apologies if your favourite group isn’t in there.

So. Linnean taxonomy and animal phyla. Wrote a song about. Wanna hear it? Here it goes. Continue reading