The Giant Isopod
The alien-like creature in the image below is not photoshoped or something. This frighteting animal is commonly known as the "giant isopod". Scientifically known as Bathynomus giganteus, the giant isopod holds the record for being the world's largest isopod.
The species was first discovered and described by French zoologist, Alphon. se Milne-Edwards in 1879, who fished a young male somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico.
Back then, the scientific community was thrilled with the discovery, not only because of the animal's immense size but also because it was believed that the deep ocean floor was an azoic (lifeless) environment. It took more than a century for scientists to get their hands into a female specimen, in 1891.
Interestingly, this bizarre sea creature is closely related to the common woodlouse (Oniscus asellus).
The species has a more or less global distribution, occurring in the bottoms of all three majors oceans, at depths ranging from 200 to at least 2100 meters.
These strange critters commonly reach lengths between 19 and 36 centimeters (7.5 to 14.2 in). However, the biggest ever caught specimen was 76 centimeters (about 30 inches) long and weighted about 1.7 kilograms. Nobody knows how much bigger they can get as they are poorly understood animals, that are not heavily researched. Considering that the majority of isopod species have a length of 1 to 5 centimeters we can safely say that giant isopods are a true, deep-sea monstrosity!
Giant isopods have a strong, thick and segmented exoskeleton with 7 pairs of pereopods (the equivalent of legs). The pereopods are uniramous, meaning that they have only one pair of legs per segment. The first pair of pereopods is modified into special "tools", called maxillipeds that are used for placing food into the mouth, which in turn contains 4 sets of jaws! The abdomen is comprised of five segments. These segments are called pleonites.
Similarly to woodlouses, they have the ability to curl up into a "ball", protecting themselves from predators using their hard exoskeleton as a shield.
They have large and highly reflective compound eyes,with over 3,500 facets.
Individuals come in two colors, brown and pale lilac.
Giant isopods are carnivorous scavengers, eating any dead animal that ends up in the ocean floor, including dead whales, fish, squids etc. However, they occasionally become predators, hunting and eating other small and slow animals, like sea cucumbers, sponges, radiolarians, nematodes, and other zoobenthos, possible even live fish.
Research suggests that they are adapted to large periods of famine, being able to survive for more than 8 weeks without any food.
Here's a video showing these strange animals in action, as they consume a dead whale, along with other deep-sea scavenging creatures:
Little is known about the reproduction patterns of giant isopods. We know that they reproduce by laying eggs.
The eggs are quite large, perhaps the largest among all marine invertebrates. They have a diameter of up to 1.3 cm. The hatchlings come out of them as miniatures of adults, changing only in size as they age.
Breeding seems to take place throughout the year, reaching its peak in the spring and winter.
Are they dangerous?
Despite their frightening appearance, the species poses no threat to humans. Don't forget, they are deep sea dwellers, occurring in depths of 200 meters or more. Seeing one in close is highly unlikely.
Still, if you somehow stumble upon be warned that they bite. But it's a small bite, nothing major. Their mouth is actually quite small.
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