Using remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and a new laser-and-camera system, researchers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) have been able to study three Bathochordaeus species, transparent and relatively ‘giant’ larvaceans, in their natural habitat off the coast of Northern California. This kind of access also gives researchers a close up look at the large mucous webs or houses that larvaceans create to gather food particles floating in the sea. From MBARI:
The house is made up of two filters and basically functions as an elaborate feeding apparatus. They eat tiny particles of dead or drifting plants and animals that float through the water column. The outer filter traps larger particles too big for the animal to eat, while the inner filter guides smaller food particles into the larvacean’s mouth. Eventually the filters get clogged and the larvacean abandons them. The sinking houses, packed with food particles, provide an important source of food for animals living on the seafloor.
In a study published in Science Advances on Wednesday, scientists near California’s Monterey Bay have found that, through this process, giant larvaceans can filter all of the bay’s water from about 300 to 1,000 feet deep in less than two weeks, making them the fastest known zooplankton filter feeders.
In doing so, the creatures help transfer carbon that has been removed from the atmosphere by photosynthesizing organisms to the deep sea, where it can be buried and stored long term. And given their abundance in other parts of the world, these organisms likely play a crucial role in the global carbon cycle.
Read more at MBARI.org.
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