New creatures from the deep identified

Nov 16, 2011 By Joanne Milne
North Atlantic deep sea acorn worm - Pink species. Credit: David Shale 

(PhysOrg.com) -- Strange deep sea creatures discovered by Aberdeen researchers have been confirmed as three new species previously unknown to science.

DNA analysis has established that creatures captured by scientists from the University of Aberdeen’s Oceanlab during a voyage to the Mid Atlantic Ocean are members of the Torquaratoridae; a recently discovered family of acorn worms. 

The identification of the delicate creatures – which could not be collected using the primitive grabs and dredges of previous centuries – may provide new insight not only into life in the deep sea but the evolution of life on earth.

The Torquaratoridae, which were captured last year using a remotely operated vehicle launched from the RRS James Cook , have no eyes and no tail but manage to crawl along  the sea floor  harvesting food that has fallen from the surface.

Professor Monty Priede, Director of the University of Aberdeen’s Oceanlab and leader of the expedition that retrieved the samples from the Atlantic Ocean, said:

“Acorn worms are known as a scientific curiosity, inconspicuous burrowing animals that are related to the ancestors of back boned animals.

“They are perceived as an evolutionary dead end, having been surpassed by their cousins, the fishes which acquired tails became fast swimmers, conquered the oceans and gave rise to reptiles, mammals and birds. 

“However the Torquaratoridae family of acorn worms has not stood still; on the contrary they crawl over the sea floor, ploughing nutritious sediment into the mouth and leaving a characteristic spiral trail behind.   They have also been observed to make swimming movements lifting off the to drift on the currents between patches of suitable feeding territory.”

Professor Priede added that expeditions to the deep sea, using remotely operated vehicles, were likely to lead to ‘an evolutionary explosion’ of these animals with 15 species discovered so far and many more likely to be found in coming years.

North Atlantic deep sea acorn worm - Purple species. Credit: David Shale

“At depths between 1500 and 3700m the deep sea acorn worms can be amongst the most abundant mobile animals alongside, sea cumbers, star fishes, crustaceans, molluscs and fishes that inhabit the deep sea,” he said.

“The DNA analysis has shown the relationships of the three Atlantic specimens to the growing family tree of the Torquaratoridae. The way is now clear to correctly describe and name these new species, which at present are just know by their colors, pink, purple and white.

“This is another exciting find for the Oceanlab team and it is strange to think that when I began my career as a zoologist I thought all the great discoveries had been made in the 1800s at the time of Charles Darwin.

“Now new technology and remotely operated vehicles are allowing us to reach new depths and capture new creatures. Oceanlab is at the forefront of this new technology and finds like this demonstrate that the age of discovery is far from over.”

A paper detailing the identification of the three new species is published today (November 16) in Proceedings of the Royal Society Series B.

The was conducted by Dr. Karen Osborn, senior author of the paper, from the Department of Invertebrate Zoology, Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Washington.

Explore further: The influence of the Isthmus of Panama in the evolution of freshwater shrimps in America

Related Stories

Rare lightshow seen in deep ocean

Nov 17, 2006

Rare footage of marine creatures putting on deep sea 'lightshows' on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean has been captured by scientists using the latest technology. So many animals were squirting luminescence into the water ...

Life photographed at Europe's deepest point

Apr 14, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Aberdeen scientists have photographed for the first time fish and shrimps at Europe’s deepest point -- 5111 meters or 3.2 miles deep below the surface of the Mediterranean Sea.

New shrimp named after scientist

Mar 04, 2011

It’s a new species of shrimp and it’s been named Princaxelia jamiesoni after the University of Aberdeen scientist who discovered it in trenches at the bottom of the North West Pacific Ocean.

Creatures from the deep exposed

Mar 11, 2011

An academic from the University of Plymouth has helped unravel the largely unexplored weird and wonderful world of deep-sea marine life.

Recommended for you

Dogs hear our words and how we say them

12 hours ago

When people hear another person talking to them, they respond not only to what is being said—those consonants and vowels strung together into words and sentences—but also to other features of that speech—the ...

Amazonian shrimps: An underwater world still unknown

13 hours ago

A study reveals how little we know about the Amazonian diversity. Aiming to resolve a scientific debate about the validity of two species of freshwater shrimp described in the first half of the last century, ...

Factors that drive sexual traits

14 hours ago

Many male animals have multiple displays and behaviours to attract females; and often the larger or greater the better.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.