'Monster larva' turns into a shrimp

Jeremy Hance
August 28, 2012

The larva known as Cerataspis monstrosa. Photo courtesy of Bracken-Grissom et al.
The larva known as Cerataspis monstrosa. Photo courtesy of Bracken-Grissom et al.

With blue devil-shaped horns and red armor, the monster larva, or Cerataspis monstrosa, kept scientists guessing for nearly 200 years; infrequently found in the bellies of marine predators, researchers could not imagine what this larva became as an adult. Now they do: the monster larva becomes a deep sea shrimp, known as Plesiopenaeus armatus, which bares little monstrous resemblance to its larval stage, according to DNA studies published in Ecology and Evolution.

Although tiny, lead author Heather Bracken-Grissom says that Cerataspis monstrosa has a "bizarre, monster-like appearance." She adds, "It’s really crazy when you see it." Sporting neon blue horns, what look-like backwards curving tusks, and reddish-purple armor, the larva looks like something out of science fiction.

"In the larval form, we think it has an extended existence in the water column because of its unusual physical characteristics," Bracken-Grissom says in a press release. "We know that it’s a food source for some large, predatory fish. But there’s so much we just don’t know about it."

Bracken-Girssom and her team took DNA from a well-persevered specimen of the larva found in 2009 and then linked it to the deep sea shrimp. The animal, both in its larva and adult stage, is rare and difficult for researchers to find. But at least now researchers know what it turns into when it grows up.

"There are so many instances where we have documented creatures in infant or larval stages and have no idea they become as adults. It’s just further evidence of how vast the oceans are," Bracken-Grissom says, adding, "I hope this discovery helps keep the conversation going about the importance of biodiversity."

Larva (left) becomes shrimp (right). Photo courtesy of Bracken-Grissom et al.
Larva (left) becomes shrimp (right). Photo courtesy of Bracken-Grissom et al.

CITATION: Bracken-Grissom, H. D., Felder, D. L., Vollmer, N. L., Martin, J. W. and Crandall, K. A. (2012), Phylogenetics links monster larva to deep-sea shrimp. Ecology and Evolution. doi: 10.1002/ece3.347

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Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (August 28, 2012).

'Monster larva' turns into a shrimp.