Top 10 Bizarre Arctic Creatures
Sometimes it’s frustrating that books and movies usually feature animals that we all know about. Lions, giraffes, and bears are all really cool, don’t get me wrong. I understand Old McDonald would be a weird farmer if he kept Hoff Crabs. However, there are quite a few animals out there that are truly intriguing. They might not be the fastest or the biggest, but they are still other-worldly.
The Arctic (and Antarctic) regions of the Earth of course have very extreme climates. And as a result, any animals that call those places home are going to be a little weird. When we learn about these animals, it helps us imagine what sort of life might have existed on ancient Earth, on other worlds in our galaxy, or might even help us design things. Let’s get to it.
#10: Clione Antarctica
According to the plant and animal template on Hubpages.com, I should start off with a cute animal. This animal is about as cute as you'll find on this list...so I tried.
The Clione Antarctica is nicknamed the Sea Angel, and it feeds on a smaller swimming Sea Slug. Does it sound like I’m on something yet?
Even though it’s called a Sea Angel, I would still recoil if it swam near me. They look almost like the Pillsbury doughboy grew wings, and they don’t move much faster than you might expect. The part of it that looks like a fat belly in fact is a fat belly. The fat comes in handy for them because they can survive about 6 months without food.
The Clione Antarctica hasn’t been studied very extensively. After all, would you want to dive deep in Antarctic waters to study a Sea Angel? No. You’re too busy with the internet like I am. So just about every time someone studies the Clione Antarctica it seems that something new came out. Fairly recently it was discovered they pack their own fish repellent. It’s called Pteroenone, and it’s a molecule new to science. That means a group of about five biochemists were able to publish a paper on how to synthesize it way back in 2010 and made money off of it. That’s what you and I could do if we weren’t too busy with the internet (maybe).
Also, jellyfish have been documented eating them and subsequently taking advantage of their fish repellent. Antarctica is a weird world.
#9: Limacina Antarctica
While we’re on the topic, we might as well mention the sea snail that the Clione Antarctica eats. They’re called the Limacina Antarctica, and they are very weird looking. These two species have formed a special bond. Since the Limacina Antarctica is the only food that the Clione Antarctica eats, their life cycles have become parallel over time. Also, the Limacinas definitely would pass as a pokémon (I’m ashamed that’s my second pokémon reference in two straight articles, I have a problem).
Anyway, as you can see to the right, they look like a seashell with wings. A sea shell with wings would be way too normal for this list though. Its actual shell is only a couple of micrometers thick. This animal single-handedly redefines what I thought it meant to be a snail.
What does a tiny sea snail eat? Plankton, of course, caught via its mucus webs. Think about that for a second. What if humans had evolved to catch prey with mucus webs? Anyway, the Limacina Antarctica seems to have been studied more that the Clione Antarctica (at least more I could find info on it). Its poop is of particular interest to scientists, because although they are small, there are so many of them that they significantly affect the carbon cycle. Thus they’re of interest because of their role in the Global Warming thing.
So the last three things I’ve talked about are poop, mucus, and pokémon. Maybe it’s time for a break.
#8: Crocodile Icefish
I'm back from my break.
The next animal on my list is the Crocodile icefish. Can you think of a much more awesome name? These things are transparent, mostly to help cope with the subzero Celsius temperatures of the Antarctic waters.
From the picture you might be curious if it even has blood. You can’t see red blood because there are no red blood cells. They actually have anti-freeze style blood cells that are transparent. These allow the fish to frolic in -3.0 Celsius water (kind of an oxymoron, because at -1.9 C seawater freezes). Anyway, the cold water comes within a couple of degrees of killing the fish at all times. However, sea water temperature doesn’t change much, especially in the Antarctic. Therefore the icefish is safe. And no, this fish would not be very suited for milder temperatures. The cold protection makes it operate much less efficiently, and so it wouldn’t be as good at doing fish things as other fish in the milder areas.
In case you were wondering, crocodile icefish evolved from a sluggish ancient bottom dwelling species. They were able to migrate to their current habitat because of “periodic openings of fjords” according to Wikipedia. “Periodic openings of fjords” is competitive to be on my list of Top 10 favorite phrases, or Top 10 favorite things that caused brand new evolutionary branches.
Okay, so according to the Hubpages template, it's time for a table. I had trouble coming up with a useful one...so I created this one instead.
Overall Awesomeness (not an average)
1 (They're really small)
As you can see from the table, this list lacks intimidation but exudes awesomeness.
#7: Antarctic Springtail
As a preface, I want to ask you to name Antarctic land mammals. If I told you that penguins, seals, and sea birds technically don't count because they just visit, you'd probably really struggle. Antarctica is not only the coldest continent, it's also the driest and windiest.
And if you do decide to eliminate those animals because they're just visitors, the next largest animal might surprise you. This animal is GIGANTIC compared to other antarctic land animals simply because you can see it without a microscope.
This animal is the Antarctic Springtail, and you might still want to use a microscope to get a good look at it. After studying it, you would find it has six legs, eats bacteria, etc. Perhaps most intriguing is that it slows down and produces glycerol, a basic organic chemical, if the weather gets cold in a relative sense. Springtails still freeze to death from time to time.
It's kind of fun to speculate on some things. How long have they been there? Could some of their biochemistry be remnants of a pre-dinosaur time period? Most Antarctic life is indigenous to Antarctica, so they provide unique biological studies. Let's go science, get on it.
#6: Turn back now if you have a weak stomach
What's 8 inches long, fully armored, and has a retractable head?
Something out of your worst nightmares...the Eulagisca gigantea.
They fit into the "deep Antarctic ocean resident so we don't know about them" scientific category. They probably have interesting biochemistry, diets, and genetic background...but there isn't a lot of people out there studying them. Who knows, they might have cancer fighting biochemistry and we are just too chicken to dissect them.
Here is a photo gallery of something you never want to see in real life...
#5: Mertensia Ovum
Okay, I hope you're still with me after that last slideshow.
You might be thinking, "What's a top 10 most interesting creature list without a bioluminescent carnivore?"
And you'd be right. Don't worry, this entry is a bioluminescent carnivore.
The Mertensia Ovum is a comb jelly unlike all other comb jellies in that it likes cold waters. Its cool features include a dispersed nerve system under its skin that function as a brain, two tentacles that are extremely sticky that come complete with two sticky tentacle "sheaths", as well as 8 rows of cilia that propel the creature and act as antennae.
Whew. They just keep getting more interesting.
One last fact: most of the time Mertensia Ovum reproduce sexually, but sometimes asexually. So after compiling all of those facts I've scientifically decided comb jellies are not from Earth.
#4: Crossota Norvegica
The previous comb jelly entry is found in shallow waters. Let's go back to the deep deep ocean for a second.
If we go deep enough we might stumble upon the Crossota Norvegica. I think it's interesting simply because of its deep red color and thin transparent membrane. However, there are some other weird facts about it.
For one, it's 2 cm big and has irregular vertical ridges around its whole body. Also, it has more horizontal ridges than other Crossota. It's 2014 and we still don't know what it eats. Lastly, it's probably the only animal I've heard of with "5-7 upturned lips." I have to swallow my pride and confess I don't even know what that means, really.
#3: Hoff Crab
This species was kind of a media darling for a couple of days or so. It's a crab that owes its name to David Hasselhoff's chest hair--not even kidding. It's also been called the yeti crab because it's white and fuzzy. You can call it whatever you want because it's still technically undescribed by science.
We find all sorts of creatures around deep sea hydro-thermal vents. Once considered an inhospitable habitat (because no sunlight), hydro-thermal vents supply one of the basic necessities of life...energy. And if Earth organisms can live there, the potential obstacles for life on exoplanets or Europa diminish. Also, it makes me appreciate living in internet times to witness these kinds of creatures.
Here's a video of these weird creatures in action.
#2: Antarctic Krill
Krill don't sound too interesting, but would you guess that Antarctic Krill is the species that (probably) weighs the most if you gathered all of them up and put them on a gigantic scale? I don't know how many of them to takes to make an elephant, but that's impressive.
The fun doesn't stop there. One can find dense populations of them in the southernmost regions of the ocean, with densities of up to 30,000 per cubic meter. Densities like these can be achieved because the Antarctic ocean has some of the densest plankton populations to feed on. These densities also make them prey to virtually every animal that visits the Antarctic from whales to penguins to birds.
Krill have an interesting interaction with CO2 as well, and so they are of particular interest to scientists. They poop out heavy poop laced with carbon that takes a long time to sink to the bottom of the 6,000-13,000 ft deep Antarctic abyss. It takes an estimated 1,000 years for the carbon in that poop to resurface as CO2. Since krill are in such large abundance, this has a non-trivial effect on our atmosphere.
Looking back, I think I might show too much preference to bioluminescent creatures. Oh well.
Things from 1,600 years ago:
- Roman empire was collapsing
- Metal horseshoes were gaining popularity across Europe
- It's about the time that Constantinople became the largest city in the world
#1: 1,600 year old moss THAT WAS REVIVED
The last entry on this list is not luminescent, but it doesn't need to be. Scientists dug out moss from 3.5 feet of Antarctic permafrost, and it was in remarkable condition. So they thawed it. And sprayed it with water periodically. And three weeks later, they noticed it was growing and greening. Wow.
So did it ever really technically die? This is the only multicellular organism on record to achieve a resurrection feat such as this. On a side note however a 30,000 year old virus was resurrected recently as well.
Maybe when I'm old they can freeze me for 1,600 years so I can see the future? Who knows.
Some beautiful photos (that I didn't have permission for) of Arctic creatures can be found here.