Planet Earth

Strange Species in Mid-Atlantic Surprise Even Scientists

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Photo Credits: Image: David Shale

The full Census of Marine Life will be released to the world this October, but that hasn't stopped the scientists involved from previewing some of the odd creatures they've found deep down in the ocean. In April we brought you some of the coolest-looking microbes discovered, and now marine scientists from the University of Aberdeen in the U.K. have unveiled a new batch of wondrous life: 10 possibly new species that appear to lie somewhere between true vertebrates and invertebrates.

This is an acorn worm, a scavenger of seafloor sediment that the researchers found in the North Atlantic. Click through for more.

Photo Credits: Image: David Shale

This little golden fellow, a bathypelagic ctenophore or comb jelly, anchors itself to the seafloor with its tentacles.

Monty Priede, the director of the University of Aberdeen’s Oceanlab, says the ecosystems around the Mid-Atlantic Ridge are marvelously diverse. Says Priede: “We were surprised at how different the animals were on either side of the ridge which is just tens of miles apart. In the west the cliffs faced east and in the east the cliffs faced west. The terrain looked the same, mirror images of each other, but that is where the similarity ended. It seemed like we were in a scene from Alice Through the Looking Glass."

Photo Credits: Image: David Shale

The Aberdeen scientists drove unmanned underwater vehicles down to depths of nearly 12,000 feet to find this haul of life, including this sea cucumber.

Photo Credits: Image: David Shale

There's no escape from a basket star. This one would have used its web of tentacles to pull in plankton to eat.

Photo Credits: Image: David Shale

This is an acorn worm like the one in the first image, except of the "northern pink" variety rather than "southern purple."

Monty Priede says these primitive acorn worms help researchers understand the evolution of vetebrate animals. "They have no eyes, no obvious sense organs or brain but there is a head end, tail end and the primitive body plan of back-boned animals is established," says Priede. "One was observed showing rudimentary swimming behaviour."

Photo Credits: Image: David Shale

You can probably recognize this one as a jellyfish, but this one is something of a recluse—it forages for crustaceans near the seafloor.

Photo Credits: Image: David Shale

A sea cucumber found swimming near the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. From the scientists' statement:

Sea cucumbers, or holothurians, normally seen crawling incredibly slowly over the flat abyssal plains of the ocean floor, were found on steep slopes, small ledges and rock faces of the underwater mountain range.

Researchers were also surprised to see that they were very able and fast moving swimmers and unique video sequences were recorded of swimming holothurians.

Photo Credits: Image: David Shale

This scale worm belongs with the class polychaete, so-called "bristle worms" that bear this kind of spiny-looking shape.

Photo Credits: Image: David Shale

A sea cucumber, found 8,000 feet below the surface.

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