Ram's Horn Squid

Associated Smithsonian Expert: Michael Vecchione, Ph.D.

Dr. Mike Vecchione holding a dumbo octopus (Cirrothauma magna) brought up from the deep sea.

Photo by Amy Hedger

Dr. Mike Vecchione is a systematic zoologist whose research spans the entire scope of the natural history of cephalopods. His current focus is on deepwater cephalopods of the western North Atlantic, in U.S. waters as well as deep-sea and polar regions. He is also working on the evolutionary relationships of neocoleoids (all living cephalopods other than Nautilus) and uncovering details of their early life histories. Mike spends a lot of time at sea either leading or participating in deep-sea and polar expeditions on U.S. and foreign ships. By using lots of equipment, including submersibles and traditional net sampling, he is able to sample a broad spectrum of biodiversity. For example, he headed a team of researchers from 16 nations to conduct the Mid-Atlantic Ridge Ecosystem Project. For six weeks, they surveyed the mid-Atlantic Ridge, halfway between Iceland and Azores, to assess biodiversity, identify new species, and shed light on deep-sea food webs. As Director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries National Systematics Laboratory, Dr. Vecchione is one of the many scientists from "affiliated agencies" assigned to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. He uses the National Collections, libraries and other museum resources for his research and serves as the agency expert on cephalopods. He also provides curatorial support for the cephalopod collections.

Meet our associated expert

This image was obtained from the Smithsonian Institution. The image or its contents may be protected by international copyright laws.

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Common Pelican's Foot (Aporrhais pespelecani)
Courtesy of Isidro Martinez, via Flickr: EOL Images, CC-BY-NC-SA

About Mollusks (Phylum Mollusca): Body Plan

Mollusks have soft bodies (mollis = soft) with no internal skeleton. They hold their shape by internal water pressure (a hydrostatic skeleton). A muscular skin-like structure called the mantle covers the back of a mollusk, protecting its mass of internal body organs (viscera). Most mollusks also have a hard shell or at least some hard plates over the mantle. Shells are made of a protein matrix holding together crystals of calcium carbonate. Under those layers is a calcium-containing third layer that in some species is shiny mother-of-pearl. This layered structure makes for a strong shell that protects the soft parts from predators and provides a site for muscle attachment. Most mollusks move their bodies slowly using a muscular structure called the foot to creep along, stick to, or burrow into surfaces, although some mollusks (e.g. squid and scallops) swim.