An undersea robot has discovered a new species of sea anemone in the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica.
The white anenomes have been given the name “Edwardsiella andrillae,” in honor of the Antarctic Geological Drilling Program (ANDRILL), whose scientists are credited with their discovery. The discovery was reportedly made initially in December of 2010 but has just now been made public with the recent publication of the information about the new life form in the journal PLoS ONE.
The thousands of newly discovered anemones have been described as appearing “like flowers from a ceiling,” due to their unusual positioning. They were found burrowed upside down within the ice shelf, with only their tentacles sticking out into the chilly surrounding waters.
A lead scientist on the project, Scott Borg, says that it is quite a mystery as to how the anemones are able to remain burrowed on the underside of an actively melting ice shelf. He called the discovery “astonishing” and says that it proves that there is much that remains unknown about Antarctica and the hearty lifeforms that are adapting to changing life in its extreme conditions. More research will be needed to determine for certain how and what the creatures eat, how it is that they avoid freezing and how they are able to reproduce.
When in a contracted state, the anemones are reportedly about one inch in length, though when relaxed they appear to stretch to a length of between three and four inches. Each anemone has between 20 and 24 protruding tentacles.
While other anemones have been previously identified in Antarctica, these are the first to live anywhere other than on, or burrowed into, the floor of the sea.
The discovery of the sea anemones was not the intended mission of the undersea robot that found them, but was simply “serendipitous” according to one scientist on the project. The robot had been lowered beneath the surface of the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica equipped with two cameras to provide more knowledge about the currents in the ocean beneath the ice shelf. Finding living organisms in the ice, let alone a previously undiscovered species of organisms, was a complete shock to the researchers involved.
When the robot first shed light onto the anemones, those observing report that they immediately began to shout about the unexpected and “exciting biological discovery.”
The new species of sea anemones residing in the ice of Antarctica were not the only lifeforms observed by the robot’s cameras. Researches also watched fish that reportedly swim upside down treating the bottom of the ice shelf as the floor of their world. They saw “polychaete worms, amphipods and a creature they dubbed “the eggroll” as well.” The “eggroll” creature was a small cylindrically shaped organism that appeared able to swim through the use of appendages existing on both ends of its body. It reportedly rolled among the sea anemones and relied upon them for support at times.
Researcher reportedly hope to return to Antarctica for further study of the newly discovered species of sea anemones identified by the undersea robot as early as 2015.
By Michele Wessel