Researchers off the coast of Australia have been on a mission since before recent world events have caused a shift in global commerce. The researchers, who are part of the Schmidt Ocean Institute, have been using remote deep-sea vehicles to capture footage of some of the strangest life-forms on Earth. One such entity, a giant siphonophore, has captured the public imagination.
SOI researches tweeted about their discovery, a 150-foot long colony that looks like a giant spool of silly string. “Check out this beautiful *giant* siphonophore Apolemia recorded on #NingalooCanyons expedition. It seems likely that this specimen is the largest ever recorded, and in strange UFO-like feeding posture,” SCI tweeted with an accompanying video.
Siphonophores are unusual deep-sea organisms that are made up of thousands of small clone organisms. The clones are medusoids and polyps, a variety of life forms that are related to jellyfish and coral. While they often congregate in colonies, none have ever been recorded as being this massive.
Normally, siphonophores are recorded as being a few inches to maybe a foot long, at most. While scientists knew it was technically possible for the unusual organisms to be made up of even more clones, SOI’s mission was the first to record one at such a massive size.
In SOI’s video, the organism is seen in a massive spiral pattern. The string-like entity is hunting in the video, using its galaxy-shaped posture to increase its odds of snaring an unsuspecting meal. While each individual polyp in the chain is a clone of the last, the clones do have specialized functions.
Some clones possess special stinging cells that can be used to paralyze and subdue prey. As such, this massive and beautiful deep-sea structure is functioning like a fisherman’s net. When prey enters their radius, the polyps can sting and subdue them, turning them into a quick meal.
It’s all but impossible to determine the age of a siphonophore, because the individuals in the colony are all clones. While some clones might be only weeks old, others could be ancient. Medusoids, by their very nature, are biologically immortal, able to revert to an earlier stage of their life cycle when the need arises.
This deep-sea discovery proves that the depths of the ocean are truly alien to us. While our own Earth may seem like home, it could hold mysteries more fascinating than even the cold, dark depths of outer space.