January 27, 2014
"When we looked up at the bottom of the ice shelf, there they were," says Frank Rack, executive director of ANDRILL, who calls the discovery "total serendipity." The scientists have named the new upside down anemones Edwardsiella andrillae after the program. Named after the flower, anemones are actually predatory marine animals distantly related to corals and jellyfish.
Top: the ice anemones: Edwardsiella andrillae. Photo courtesy of Daly et al. Bottom: Remotely-operated robot known as SCINI (Submersible Capable of under Ice Navigation and Imaging). Photo by: Stacy Kim, National Science Foundation.
Although the anemones shrunk back from the infiltrating robot, the researchers were able to collect a few specimens by stunning the anemones with a hot water cannon on the robot and transferring them to McMurdo Station.
"This is the first species of sea anemone reported to live in ice," the scientists write. "Previously described species of sea anemones from Antarctica are reported from hard or soft substrates, but always below the anchor ice."
In addition, this is the is the first time scientists have ever discovered anemones in the Edwardsiella genus (also known as burrowing anemones) near the continent. The bone-white, ghostly anemones are a few inches long when fully extended and sport 20 to 24 tentacles.
Close up of Edwardsiella andrillae. Photo courtesy of Daly et al.
But unexpected anemones were not the only discovery made the by the ANDRILL program. The unmanned robot filmed a whole bizarre menagerie of creatures below the ice shelf including fish swimming upside down (also treating the underside of the ice shelf as the sea floor) and an unidentified cylinder-shaped creature that scientists dubbed "the eggroll." In addition they recorded marine worms and amphipods.
"People were literally jumping up and down with excitement," Rack said. "They had found a whole new ecosystem that no one had ever seen before. What started out as an engineering test of the remotely operated vehicle during its first deployment through a thick ice shelf turned into a significant and exciting biological discovery."
Scientists hope to return in 2015 to further study the anemones and other mysterious creatures somehow surviving on the ice shelf.
A vast community of ice anemones (Edwardsiella andrillae) living on the underside of the Ross Ice Shelf. Photo courtesy of Frank Rack.
Close up of Edwardsiella andrillae. Photo courtesy of Frank Rack.
- Daly M, Rack F, Zook R (2013) Edwardsiella andrillae, a New Species of Sea Anemone from Antarctic Ice. PLoS ONE 8(12): e83476. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0083476
|AUTHOR: Jeremy Hance joined Mongabay full-time in 2009. He currently serves as senior writer and editor. He has also authored a book.|
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