Researchers have discovered an eight-legged ‘monster’ lurking in the dark waters beneath the Arctic sea ice.
According to University of Manitoba graduate student Aurelie Delaforge, who discovered the new copepod, it’s the first known to live in the Canadian Arctic.
In adult form, the beast uses eight bristly legs to paddle its mostly translucent body through the dark water. It has one weak eye, no mouth, and two antennas adorned with ragged, flowing hairs. Thankfully, for sleep’s sake, it is only 2mm long.
Aurelie Delaforge did not purposefully seek this monster out in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. But she found it, and now Canada’s arctic biodiversity includes a new copepod of the Monstrilloida family, derived from the word “monster”. There are more than 160 different Monstrilloida zooplankton floating around the oceans, and now Canada’s Arctic has a species of its own. Happy Halloween.
This discovery came thanks to two noteworthy coincidences. One, Delaforge studied the taxonomy of small ocean animals and plants for her masters back home in France and so knew enough to recognize the oddity. Two, while living on an ice camp in Canada’s high arctic, she was sampling the ocean to support her PhD thesis on what causes plankton blooms under the sea ice, and she took the samples during the short two-month window these animals take adult form—May and June. Outside of these months, the animal would be nearly invisible as larvae or busy living as a parasite inside animals like clams and sponges. But by luck, the creature kept showing up in her samples, suggesting it didn’t just drift over from somewhere else. It was local.
After returning to her lab at the U of M, Delaforge sent a text to a Department of Fisheries and Oceans researcher, Wojciech Walkusz: “I have this alien!!!” He immediately suspected it was a Monstrilloida so she sent her specimen to Mexico where the world’s foremost monster identification specialist resides. Eduardo Suárez-Morales dissected the tiny creature and confirmed the Canadian Arctic’s first, true monster: Monstrillopsis planifrons, or flat headed monster.
Delaforge and her colleagues published their discovery, “A new species of Monstrillopsis (Copepoda, Monstrilloida) from the lower Northwest Passage of the Canadian Arctic”, in the latest edition of the ZooKeys journal.
The British Journal Editors and Wire Services