Science

A giant, hideous lice-like creature in the deep sea filmed feasting on a fish head

A giant, hideous lice-like creature in the deep sea filmed feasting on a fish head

Creepy video taken during a research dive off the coast of Florida shows a deep-sea creature feasting on a fish’s head.

The video is featured in the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Office of Ocean Research and Exploration’s “31 Dives of Halloween” web series, which highlights a host of fascinating deep-sea creatures ahead of the popular holiday.

The creature seen in the video is a giant isopod of its kind Bathynomus giganteus—a deep sea scavenger that is a close relative of pill bugs and bed bugs commonly found in homes and gardens.

Isopods are a type of crustaceans that live in oceanic and terrestrial environments, of which there are about 10,000 species worldwide.

A giant fish-eating isopod
Above, a giant isopod feeds on fish in the deep sea about 40 miles southeast of Key West, Florida. Giant isopods are an example of deep-sea gigantism.
NOAA Office of Ocean Research and Exploration

Giant isopods, belonging to the genus (group of species) Bathynomus, are the largest of all isopods. They can grow much larger than their terrestrial cousins ​​which can reach a length of about a meter and a half.

“Giant isopods are an example of deep-sea gigantism, and that’s where deep sea the animals get extremely large,” said Stephanie Farrington, the biological science lead for the giant isopod imaging expedition who now works with NOAA Fisheries. Newsweek.

“This phenomenon is thought to increase efficiency, so lack of food in the deep ocean may have led to the evolution of gigantism. Cooler water also correlates with larger body size—usually bottom temperature the ocean is close to freezing,” said Farrington, who specializes in deep-sea biology.

The video in question was captured during a 2019 NOAA research expedition about 40 miles southeast of Key West, Florida, at a depth of nearly 4,000 feet. It shows a giant isopod estimated to be about 8 inches long nibbling on a bite of fish.

Although giant isopods were first discovered in 1879, there is still much about their biology and behavior that we do not fully understand as scientists have yet to conduct extensive research on them. This is why videos like this are so important to researchers.

“Because they live at such great depths, they are very difficult to study. Until modern history, the only way to access them was by using trawlers,” Farrington said. “The advent of modern ocean exploration and deep submersion vehicles allows us to observe giant isopods in their natural environment. This in situ observation has enabled more frequent observations of their behavior.”

While scientists have a basic understanding of their diet, breeding habits and distribution, they are still learning new things about this group of animals. A new species was described just this year from the Gulf of Mexico.

Like all crustaceans, giant isopods have a hard exterior known as an exoskeleton. The bodies of these alien creatures are divided into three segments, including the cephalon (head), pereon (thorax) and pleon (abdomen), according to Farrington.

They have 14 jointed legs, a fan-shaped tail, known as a uropod, and two sets of antennae – one long pair and one short pair. They also have a set of strange appendages on their abdomen called pleopods which are part of their respiratory system.

Giant isopods have been collected or seen at depths ranging from 170 to 2,140 meters (558 to 7,020 feet) around the world, according to Farrington. Bathynomus giganteus found mainly in the Gulf of Mexico, Florida Straits and as far south as Brazil, mostly on or near sandy seabeds.

While more than 20 species of giant isopods have been described to date, B. giganteus is the only one to Farrington’s knowledge found in the United States, with the exception of the newly identified species from the Gulf of Mexico.

Giant isopods are thought to have existed for more than 160 million years, evidence from the fossil record shows.

B. giganteus it is not on the endangered species list, but faces numerous threats. Hard-bodied invertebrates (those with calcified body parts) are threatened by ocean acidification, which is a decrease in ocean pH caused by an increase in greenhouse gases absorbed into the ocean.

“Ocean acidification can literally dissolve or prevent the formation of calcium carbonate in shells and exoskeletons,” Farrington said.

These animals are also exposed to plastic pollution and can be inadvertently caught by deep-sea trawlers.



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