A giant isopod eating a fish

Giant and horrific sea louse-like creature caught on film feasting on fish head

Chilling video captured during a research dive off the coast of Florida shows a deep sea creature feasting on the head of a fish.

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

The creature visible in the clip is a giant isopod of the species giant bathynoma– a deep-sea scavenger that is a close relative of woodlice and woodlice commonly found in homes and gardens.

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

A giant isopod eating a fish
Above, a giant isopod feasts on a 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 Exploration and Research

The giant isopods, which belong to the genus (group of species) Bathynoma, are the largest of all isopods. They can grow much larger than their terrestrial relatives capable of reaching lengths of up to about a foot and a half in length.

“Giant isopods are an example of deep-sea gigantism, that is, deep-sea animals grow extremely large,” said Stephanie Farrington, biological science manager for the expedition during which the images of the giant isopod have been collected and is now working with NOAA. Fishing, told Newsweek.

“This phenomenon is thought to increase efficiency, and so the scarcity of food in the deep ocean may have led to the evolution of gigantism. Colder water also correlates with larger body size – usually the ocean floor temperature is close to freezing,” said deep sea biologist Farrington.

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 piece of fish.

Although giant isopods were first discovered in 1879, there is still a lot about their biology and behavior that we don’t fully understand as scientists have yet to conduct extensive studies on them. That’s why videos like this are so important to researchers.

“Since they live at such great depths, they are very difficult to study. Until modern history, the only way for us to access them was by using trawls,” Farrington said. “The advent of modern ocean exploration and deep submersion vehicles allows us to observe giant isopods in the natural environment. This in situ observation had made it possible to observe their behavior more frequently.”

Although 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 has just been described this year in the Gulf of Mexico.

Like all crustaceans, giant isopods have a hard exterior called an exoskeleton. The bodies of these otherworldly 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, a long and a 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 sighted at depths ranging from 170 to 2,140 meters (558 to 7,020 feet) around the world, according to Farrington. giant bathynoma found primarily in the Gulf of Mexico, Florida Strait, and as far south as Brazil, mostly on or near the sandy bottom.

While more than 20 species of giant isopods have been described to date, B. giganteus is the only one Farrington is aware of that is found in the United States, except for the newly identified species from the Gulf of Mexico.

Giant isopods are believed to have existed for over 160 million years, based on evidence from the fossil record.

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

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

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

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