‘Longest animal ever’ discovered in deep-sea canyon

The coils of the long siphonophore
The coils of the long siphonophore
Image: Schmidt Ocean Institute

Underwater explorers find a 150-foot-long siphonophore living in a submarine canyon off the coast of Australia

A siphonophore is a translucent, stringy creature that (like coral) is made up of smaller creatures. These little ones are called zooids and each zooid performs a function for the siphonophore’s larger body, like an organ in the human body.

A Plumatella bryozoa zooid
Plumatella bryozoa zooid | Image: Science Photo Library

The new, record-setting siphonophore was one of several discoveries made by a team aboard the research vessel Falkor while exploring deep-sea canyons near Australia’s Ningaloo Coast.

It’s made of millions of interconnected clones, like if the Borg and the Clone Wars had a baby together. There are about a dozen different jobs a clone can do in the colony, and each clone is specialised to a particular task

Rebecca Helm, a University of North Carolina, Asheville, marine biologist

The researchers used a remotely operated vehicle called ROV SuBastian to explore and collect samples from deep ocean areas that hadn’t been investigated before.

In March, researchers using the same ROV discovered gardens and graveyards of coral in three submarine canyons off South Australia, Live Science reported at the time.

During this latest voyage through waters off western Australia, the researchers also discovered large colonies of glass sponges and other species.

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10 facts about siphonophores…

  1. Siphonophores are an order of Cnidarian invertebrates, a group of animals that includes the corals and jellyfish. The Portuguese man o’ war is an example.

2. A siphonophore is not a single animal. It is a colony of four kinds of zooids.

3. Zooids are very small, highly modified individuals. All the zooids in a colony are genetically identical.

4. Though structurally similar to other cnidarians, the zooids do not live by themselves: they are attached to each other.

5. Each type of zooid is not self-sufficient. It depends for survival on the others doing what it cannot do by itself.

Marrus orthocanna, a species of pelagic siphonophor
Marrus orthocanna is a species of pelagic siphonophore

6. Siphonophores are a collection of highly specialised working parts made up of these zooids – some parts catch prey, others digest food, some parts reproduce and others direct the action by swimming.

7. So close do the zooids fit together that the colony looks like a single individual. It was a triumph of 19th century biology to discover the real nature of the siphonophores.

8. There are about 175 described species. Some siphonophores are the longest animals in the world, and specimens as long as 40 meters have been found.

9. The majority of siphonophores are long and thin, consisting mostly of a clear gelatinous material. They are exceedingly fragile and break into many pieces under even the slightest forces.

10. Many siphonophores are bioluminescent, glowing green or blue when disturbed. All siphonophores are predators, and use their many tentacles to capture crustaceans and small fish.


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