The deep sea is rich with life, from fish to invertebrates to microbes. Hidden within the mud and rocks are numerous small animals (less than 1 millimeter) that are almost invisible to the naked eye. While small, they represent a major component of deep-sea diversity.
My research focuses on understanding and identifying the communities found within deep-sea sediments, called infauna, and characterizing their role in deep-sea food-webs. The basic questions that I’m addressing include: How many animals are in the sediment? What is the community composed of and who are the rare or most abundant species? What interactions occur among these species, including who is eating what or whom?
Basic patterns in species composition, abundance, and diversity can all be a function of the environment in which they live…
So-called zombie worms — and yes, they actually exist — like to munch on whale bones for dinner. The creatures also use the bones for shelter. Spread throughout the world’s oceans, zombie worms are quite adept at making the bones of whales and other large marine animals look like Swiss cheese.
But these worms don’t have any mouthparts with which to gnaw the holes. So how do they do it? A study published in the May 1 online edition of the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B found that rather than being “bone-drilling” worms, they’re actually “bone-dissolving” worms: The worms’ skin produces acid in large quantities to break down bones…
Pelagic epitokes of the noble necklace-worm, Autolytus magnus, collected off the dock at Friday Harbor Labs. An epitoke is the pelagic reproductive form of certain species of polychaete worms, which engage in swarming behavior and broadcast spawning in the water column. The genus name Autolytus refers to the fact that these reproductive individuals are budded off of the nonreproductive individual, or atoke.
Top: the green female epitoke
Lower left: the same female epitoke on her side, exposing the mass of eggs she’s brooding
Lower right: the orange male epitoke
Swimming around the epitokes can be seen several large calanoid copepods.
The Squidworm, Teuthidodrilus, was formally described just three years ago, toward the end of the Census of Marine Life. There have only been a handful of sightings, all at great depth. This individual was spotted more than two kilometers deep in the Indian Ocean by the SERPENT Project. The genus is unusual in bearing characteristics of both benthic and pelagic lifestyle. (believed to be a polychaete annelid)
While it may look like a mollusc, the sea mouse is actually a species of marine polychaete worm found throughout the Northern Atlantic, North Sea, Baltic and Mediterranean. Like other polychaete worms the sea mouse is covered in iridescent setae which help them move across the ocean floor. Sea mice are simple scavengers and comb the sea floor eating dead and decaying animals.
Researchers discover nine new species of marine organism on a whale carcass.
by Brian Switek
A dead whale is a cozy place to live. In death, splayed over the seafloor, the massive marine mammals offer deep-sea organisms an embarrassment of blubbery and bony riches that feed entire communities of unusual creatures for decades.
One such bottom buffet was found in 2010 by researchers aboard the R.R.S. James Cook as they guided a remotely operated vehicle over the seafloor around Antarctica’s South Sandwich Islands (map), the first whalefall ever seen in the vicinity of the continent.
Dead whales that sink to the seafloor have a peculiar afterlife. Sharks, crabs, and other scavengers quickly hone in on the carcass and remove most of the whale’s soft parts, such as the fat and muscle…
A 5 cm-long scaleworm on the underside of a 2 ft-long holothurian (sea cucumber) at 1,526 m. Image captured by the Little Hercules remotely operated vehicle on a site referred to as ‘Baruna Jaya IV - Site 1’ on August 1, 2010.
When it comes to the creepy factor, Osedax worms—nicknamed “zombie worms”—beat out even the goriest movies.
A recent study reveals that these faceless, mouthless worms enjoy making sweet, sweet love inside decomposing whale skeletons that have fallen to the bottom of the ocean floor.
Originally discovered off the coast of California in 2002, Osedax—whose name is derived from the Latin for “bone eating”—got its name for its peculiar living quarters: the bones of a decomposing gray whale. These deep-dwelling worms secrete acid to bore through the hard outer bones of whales and other large vertebrate skeletons to reach the nutritious oils within.
The weirdness doesn’t stop there. Unlike many species of animals, female Osedax worms are much larger than the males—so much larger, in fact, that 50 to 100 males can live inside the female in one of nature’s most bizarre harems…
…is a large species of leech that is only found on Mount Kinabalu in Borneo. This leech species is not a bloodsucker, but is instead a hunter and feeds only on worms, like the Kinabalu giant earthworm (Pheretima darnleinsis). This leech is poorly researched and not too much is known about its biology.
The velvety red of a drifting jelly, the brick red of a vampire squid…many deep-sea creatures exhibit the colors of Valentine’s Day. When pursuing the prey object of their desire, deep-sea creatures may use red as camouflage. Wavelengths of light in the red end of the visible spectrum are preferentially absorbed by seawater, and therefore red colors appear black in the deep sea. Red animals disappear into the darkness, enabling them to ambush unsuspecting prey or avoid a hungry predator.
The bright red lights you can see in some of the clips (e.g., the sea star at 01:22) are lasers from MBARI’s remotely operated vehicle (ROV) and used to estimate sizes. The lasers are 29 cm apart.
Did you know that, if you hold a gas hydrate nodule in your hand and light it with a match, it will burn like a lantern wick? There is fire in this ice!
Gas hydrate deposits can leak gases in the water, forming cold seeps on the ocean floor. These hydrocarbon seeps may support chemosynthetic communities made up of critters such as the methane ice worms in this photo (the white stuff in the photo is the hydrate deposit).