I’m adding a new column to this blog, devoted to nerdy science stuff. I’m obsessed with watching deep sea ROV exploration live-streams this summer, namely the E/V Nautilus livestream and the Okeanos Explorer livestream.
I’m of course no expert in deep sea life or geology or oceanography of any sort, but I do have an ecology B.A. and several graduate ecology courses under my belt, just enough to be a nuisance to professional scientists, I’m sure. But, in following the deep sea expeditions I’m increasingly frustrated with how little the average viewer could access to ‘read more’ about anything we are seeing. For anyone like me, it seems natural to want to read more about particular species or genera when they pop up on screen, especially when someone on the dive watch mentions something cool about those critters. But, googling those names provides practically no new information, and certainly nothing in clear, informative prose. And, the critters I find most interesting are not always even mentioned by the folks running the dives. Maybe in 20 years folks can read about all these critters and all the related science, once there are hundreds of blogs or whatever trying to compete for readers who want that information. For now, there are far too few of us amateurs blogging about this stuff.
I was inspired to start this column by seeing one critter in particular, but this is a project I’ve been contemplating for a while.
Mid-July, the Okeanos Explorer expedition came across this nifty creature
Well, about a month later, early-mid August, Nautilus just came across this stalk, a dead bamboo coral stalk, which is the perch for some cool and familiarly shaped critters.
Now, I’m no expert, but aside from the color, these guys are the same category of critter as the one in the top 3 photos. The folks running the Nautilus dive did collect part of this stalk with at least one of these critters, but I doubt the team had much of an idea what these critters are. No doubt they’ll figure it out, but in the meantime…
These critters, I am guessing, are in the genus Lyrocteis, possibly Lyrocteis imperatoris. According to Chris Mah’s Echinoblog, there are only 2 described species, but folks are wondering if the many different colors are just different morphs of the same 2 species or whether there are many different species. They are gelatinous, related to jellyfish, and are hard enough to collect that there are few samples from which to decide how many species there may be. Hopefully the samples collected today will reach the right experts so that these critters can add to the available information on these very cool animals.
So, what are they? These guys are benthic comb jellies (ctenophores) that use long tendrils extending from their 2 arms to find food. Not much is known about them yet, but critters like the ones the Nautilus and Okeanos dives found are cool because they are transparent enough that their inner organs can be seen. I suspect that their innards might help ID them in the future, and I suspect that there are as many different species of Lyrocteis as there are of sea cucumbers. But even if they are all just 2 species with many morphs, they are very cool critters.