Mysterious deep-sea creature turned out to be a representative of a new species

Mysterious deep-sea creature turned out to be a representative of a new species
Mysterious deep-sea creature turned out to be a representative of a new species

Scientists from the French Museum of Natural History in 2011 caught a real sea monster from a depth of 500 meters. The find has eight jaws, studded with sharp teeth, and the same number of "hands" armed with needles and hooks.

This creature belongs to the class of ophiur, or snaketail. These are distant relatives of sea stars, and outwardly they also very much resemble these echinoderms. Only the rays of the ophiur are thinner and more flexible, resembling snakes, which is why the snake-tails got their name.

When the authors of the new study first saw the captured creature, they immediately realized that they were facing a completely unique individual. She really turned out to be a representative of a new species, as well as a genus and even a family.


The new species was named Ophiojura exbodi.

Photo by C. Harding / Museums Victoria.

The new species was scientifically named Ophiojura exbodi, after the EXBODI expedition that discovered it. A work describing the amazing snaketail was published in the public domain in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Researchers have compared its DNA to a range of marine animals and found that Ophiojura is separated from its closest living relatives by 180 million years of evolution. This means that their last common ancestor lived in the Triassic or Jurassic period: when dinosaurs were just beginning to dominate the Earth.

Another proof of the ancient origin of the new species is that its structure is very similar to the fossil found in the north of France. This fossil was found in Jurassic deposits, which are also about 180 million years old.


Ophiojura full body circular CT scan.

Photo by J. Black / University of Melbourne.

Such animals are usually called "living fossils", but the authors of the study believe that this is not entirely true. Living organisms are not "frozen in time" for millions of years. Naturally, the ancestors of Ophiojura continued to evolve, just at a much slower pace than the rest.

Scientists suggest calling such animals "paleoendemics". These are representatives of the once common life forms, whose range today is limited to several small territories, and these animals themselves are represented by only one or several species.

Scientists find "remnants" of ancient marine life mainly in tropical waters at the borders of continents and in seamounts at a depth of 200 to 1000 meters.

It was in such a place that Ophiojura was discovered: in the southwest of the Pacific Ocean, in the area of the Bank Duran seamount, 200 kilometers south of New Caledonia.

Seamounts are found in oceans around the world and scientists are just beginning to explore the unique nature of these places. Breathtakingly diverse coral and sponge communities are home to a wide variety of deep sea animals.

These communities are extremely sensitive to the fact that human activity is increasingly disturbing these remote places. Extraction of valuable minerals and deep-sea trawling, a method of catching bottom fish, are especially harmful to the nature of the seabed.

The Government of New Caledonia has already established a marine park in the area of Mount Durand Bank. These national parks, which prohibit commercial fishing, help preserve the diversity of the bizarre sea creatures that inhabit their waters.

Nobody knows what other mysterious animals are hiding from the eyes of scientists in the depths of the sea.

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