What is the strangest animal ever discovered in the sea? Wow boy. We have options.
Even the sea creatures people tend to know about are pretty weird. Take dabs, with their flat bodies and lined eyes, or oysters, which seem to be, let’s face it, mostly mucus? And what about w
hale? We all agree with the concept of baleen? But it only gets stranger. In coral reefs and deep water vents; on the mid-ocean ridges and in the dark, cold depths, animals have evolved truly bizarre bodies and habits to survive. The result is creatures as alien as anything that could ever be found on a distant planet. Sea creatures survive without light, in almost no oxygen, at incredible pressures – wherever they can survive.
So who’s weirder? We asked several marine biologists to find out.
Coral Reef Creatures Coral reefs are home to thousands of species, so it’s no surprise that some are very strange. The coral itself is quite bizarre; after all, reefs are built by coral polyps, relatives of jellyfish that extract calcium carbonate from the water to build protective houses shaped like brains, fans and plants. Even stranger, most coral polyps would not survive without a symbiotic relationship with an algae called zooxanthellae, which lives inside the polyps and provides energy via photosynthesis in exchange for shelter and carbon dioxide.
The habitat built by the animals of a reef, in turn, is home to other strange creatures.
Take the rose-veiled wrasse ( Cirrhilabrus finifenmaa ), which lives in deep, poorly lit reefs called “twilight reefs”. These fish look like something a 6-year-old with access to the Crayola box of 64 crayons might imagine: their bodies are a rainbow of pink, orange, purple, and blue. Research published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B in 2020 found that coral reefs provide the perfect environment for the evolution of garish colors. Clear water allows males and females to see each other well, and they may develop colorful bodies to attract mates; the structural refuge provided by hard corals means that animals face less cost to their appearance than animals in more open waters, as they can more easily escape predators despite being quite conspicuous. A Bullethead Parrot (Chlorurus sordidus) seemingly smiling, showing its teeth. (Image credit: bearacreative via Shutterstock)
Another common inhabitant of coral reefs is the bullethead parrotfish (
sordid chloride), which has some of the strongest teeth on Earthaccording to Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History – to better chew the hard coral exoskeletons to reach the tasty polyps inside. As if this diet wasn’t weird enough, parrots also sleep in cocoons of their own mucus to protect against blood-sucking parasites.
However, perhaps the strangest animals found in the reefs and off tropical Pacific islands are the sacoglosses. Sacoglossan translates to “suck the sap,” said Jeanette Davis, marine microbiologist,
science communicator and author of the children’s book “ Jada’s voyage under the sea” (Mynd Matters Publishing, 2022). Sacoglossans are more commonly known as “solar-powered sea slugs,” Davis told Live Science. These colorful slugs feed on algae, stealing some of the algae’s chloroplasts, cellular organs that allow photosynthesis. Yes, these slugs can glean energy directly from the sun. They can also use algae molecules to defend themselves, and some of them could also help defend human health.
“Through my work as a marine microbiologist, I worked with a team of scientists to ultimately help discover an anti-cancer compound produced by an algae-associated marine bacterium that is hijacked by a sacoglossan and used as a defense molecule,” said Davis said. mentioned.
Floating in the depths
The open waters of the ocean are not as full of life as coral reefs. But what lives there is almost universally strange, especially in the darker and deeper parts. Siphonophores are strong arguments for the weirdest absolutes.
“People have a hard time understanding siphonophores,” said Steven Haddock, a marine biologist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute who studies these oddities and other gelatinous creatures. Siphonophores function as a single organism, but they are actually colonies of individual asexually reproducing organisms that take on different roles within a larger whole. Researchers in Australia
once observed siphonophores up to 150 feet (45 meters) long. Haddock told Live Science that his favorite siphonophore is Mermaid Erennawhich uses red bioluminescent lures to attract prey. The Blood-Bellied Comb Jelly ( Lampoctéis) are not true jellies, but are deep-sea ctenophores. (Image credit: Takokat via Shutterstock)
Another jelly favorite for Haddock is bloody comb jelly (
Lampoctéis), a deep-sea ctenophore. Ctenophores do not sting like jellyfish; instead, they sport sticky cells to trap their prey. The oddly-named Bloodcomb Jelly is bright red and propels itself into the depths with tiny beating cellular projections called cilia, which seem to flicker when light hits them.
Also resplendent in red is the
strawberry squid ( Histioteuthis heteropsis ), a resident of the twilight zone of the ocean. It has a large (and strikingly green) eye that looks up to spot shadows cast by prey and a small eye that looks down, looking for signs of bioluminescence from prey swimming below. For the quirkiness, however, the strawberry squid doesn’t hold a candle to the bigfin squid ( magnapine)who has a body as long as a dollar bill and tentacles as long as a human. These distinctive squids are known for their tentacles that bend at a 90 degree angle, creating an odd “bend”. They have only been sighted about 20 times since their discovery more than a century ago. Life at the bottom
Animals that hope to survive at the bottom of the sea must go without light and withstand the incredible pressure of thousands of meters of water. Famous residents include the
blob fishwhich appears quite modest when swimming thousands of feet below the surface, but deflates into a sagging bag when brought to the surface, where the pressure is 100 times less than that for which the fish is adapted.
Scientists are only beginning to catalog the other strange creatures of the ocean depths. Javier Sellanes López, a marine biologist at the Catholic University of the North in Chile, has explored seamounts off the coast of South America, discovering an array of new or poorly understood species. To take
Eunice decolorhami, a polychaete worm found living in tubes 590 to 1,115 feet (180 to 340 m) deep on the slopes of the Desventuradas Islands and the Nazca Ridge seamounts. With what appear to be bulbous eyeballs and an underbite, these animals look more like background characters in “The Muppet Show” than sea worms. The blobfish has been dubbed one of the ugliest animals in the world. (Image credit: YouTube, Ugly Animal Preservation Society)
Researchers also found samples of the strange white and red crab
Ebalia sculpted, a bottom dweller that scuttles amidst tubeworms and anemones about 200 m below the surface.
“His main distinguishing feature is a face carved into his cephalothorax [fused head and body] which looks like the image of an underground being,” Sellanes López told Live Science. In other words, it’s an evil crab.
But let’s go further. Lisa Levin, a biological oceanographer at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California, named xenophyophores one of her favorite weird deep-sea creatures. Xenophyophores are single-celled organisms called protozoans that clump together sediments to form elaborate houses called “tests.” These tests look a bit like plants, corals or large lichens. They are found below about 1,300 feet (400 m) well into deep ocean channels such as the Mariana Trench and, in this arid world, provide shelter for invertebrates and developing fish embryos, Levin said. at LiveScience.
“I find the fact that a protozoan can house invertebrates or provide nursery habitat for snails is a delightful idea,” Levin said.
Less delicious, perhaps, are bone-eating worms (
Osedax), a deep-sea curiosity suggested by Scripps Institution marine biologist Gregory Rouse. These feathery red worms eat without a mouth or guts, instead excreting acid to break down the bones of dead marine animals. Females are about 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) long. The males are only one-twentieth of an inch (1 millimeter) long and live in gelatinous tubes attached to the females, existing only to fertilize the females’ eggs.
So what is the weirdest sea creature of all? It could be a crab sculpted with Satan’s face, a bioluminescent jelly thing that’s actually a bunch of little things, a slug that performs photosynthesis, or a worm that pierces bone with acid. Or maybe it’s something else. If there’s a guarantee in the ocean, it’s that something stranger is always around the corner.
Originally posted on Live Science.