This Deep-Sea Predator is the Love Child of a Macaron and a Snork

snork&macaroonIn the shallow waters where sunlight penetrates, life is easy because food abounds.  In the deep sea, life sucks because food is scarce.  In landscape of the oceans, shallow water is a suburban enclave and the deep sea is the mean urban streets.

Sea squirts, aka tunicates, in shallow water are more like, “Hey look at me! Food is everywhere.  I’m just gonna sit her on my fat tunicate ass, play GTA5, and filter that yummy food out of the water.”

But shit is real in the deep sea. .  Players got a play different game. Don’t let the fact that Dicopia antirrhinum looks like a French meringue cookie fool you; this bad boy is a predator. Typical tunicates possess two siphons, an incurrent or oral siphon and an excurrent or atrial siphon.  In the deep-sea tunicate family Octacnemidae the oral siphon is enlarged and contains lobes.  These lobes work much like a Venus Fly Trap, closing to capture motile prey.  In D. antirrhinum, the oral siphon is greatly enlarged forming a big horizontal slit surrounded by two lips.

Tadult_lowThe atrial siphon is located on D. antirrhinum’s top.  Stare closely and long enough and you will see my favorite Hanna-Barbera cartoon character from the 80’s—a Snork.  Of course a big mouth is no good without some muscles to back it up.  And o’ do muscles flourish! Circular muscles surround the lips, longitudinal muscles run both along the top and bottom of the mouth, and set of oblique muscles link the corners of the lips right the digestive system. Tiny crustaceans are not leaving this tunicate trap.

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Impressed yet? Well, consider that the name antirrhinum is homage to the genus of flowers Antirrhinum.  You know the flowers better as snap dragons so called because the flowers resemble the face of a dragon that opens and closes its mouth when laterally squeezed.

Screen Shot 2013-09-29 at 9.06.43 PM

A. Mecho, J. Aguzzi, J.B. Company, M. Canals, G. Lastras, X. Turon (2013)  First in situ observations of the deep-sea carnivorous ascidian Dicopia antirrhinum Monniot C., 1972 in the Western Mediterranean Sea. Deep-Sea Research, Pt. 1 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.dsr.2013.09.007

BONUS: In quality only USA and Hanna-Barbera in the 80′s could deliver here is the opening to the Snorks.

Dr. M (1622 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, created to facilitate research to address fundamental questions in evolutionary science. He has conducted deep-sea research for 11 years and published over 40 papers in the area. He has participated in dozens of expeditions taking him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses mainly on marine systems and particularly the biology of body size, biodiversity, and energy flow. He focuses often on deep-sea systems as a natural test of the consequences of energy limitation on biological systems. He is the author and chief editor of Deep-Sea News, a popular deep-sea themed blog, rated the number one ocean blog on the web and winner of numerous awards. Craig’s popular writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web.





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3 comments on “This Deep-Sea Predator is the Love Child of a Macaron and a Snork
  1. Pingback: This Deep-Sea Predator is the Love Child of a Macaron and a Snork | Rocketboom

  2. So does this species have a shorter “neck” than the other predatory tunicates? And does it have a rougher, more opaque surface or is it just covered in muck? Seems like it aims for more camouflage.

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