October 31, 2012

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By Mera McGrew

Did you know that there are real life zombies that secrete acid, vampires that don’t kill, and ghosts that burrow underground? Meet the zombies, vampires, and ghosts you never knew existed.

Ocean Zombies: Osedax

Photo: Yoshihifo Fujwara / JAMSTEC

So-called “zombie worms” are an unusual group of creatures from the genus Osedax, which is Latin for “bone devourer.” Only discovered in 2002, these worms were found on the ocean floor feeding on the skeletons of dead whales and fish. The bone-devouring worms lack a mouth, gut or anus, but are still able to remove nutrients from the bones that they bore into.

Researchers discovered that the worms secrete acid through their skin, which allows them to essentially drill into bones. Symbiotic bacteria inside the worms are able to digest the fats and oils the creatures extract from bones, which provide these “zombie worms” with the nutrients that they need to survive and thrive in the ocean.

Vampires of the Sea: Vampyroteuthis infernalis

Photo: National Geographic / MBARI

Despite their name, vampire squid (Vampyroteuthis infernalis) are not actually marine bloodsuckers. In fact, researchers believe that the creatures passively eat as they hover in the low-oxygen zones of the deep ocean. Reports and observations have discovered that vampire squid drift feed on marine detritus, including pieces of dead crustaceans, larvae, eggs and other filaments floating through the deep ocean.

While it is not actually a vampire, the vampire squid does live in the darkness of the deep ocean — there are reports of it being found in the mesopelagic to bathypelagic at depths between 300 and 3,000 meters. This small squid (reported to reach about a foot in length) gets its common name from cloak-like webbing between its arms, which give it a caped appearance, and large milky-blue eyes, which some have reported to appear red under certain light conditions. Research suggests that these deep-sea creatures are widespread, but researchers are quick to point out that they are still not well-known.

Aquatic Ghosts: Neotrypaea californiensis

Photo: Dave Cowles / Rosario Beach Marine Laboratory

While not actual ghosts, pink ghost shrimp (Neotrypaea californiensis), get their common name because they are mostly transparent. In fact, the creatures’ inner organs are visible through their translucent whitish exoskeleton.

Pink ghost shrimp are a type of Thalassinidean shrimp, which are among the most common burrowing organisms found in the ocean. Ghost shrimp make extensive branching burrows in the sand, which they constantly maintain and remodel. Researchers who have observed ghost shrimp have reported that while they can tolerate a wide range of environmental factors, these ghostly bottom dwellers of the ocean are awkward and relatively helpless outside of their burrows.

Top photo stitch: (c) Yoshihifo Fujwara/JAMSTEC, (c) National Geographic / MBARI, (c) Dave Cowles / Rosario Beach Marine Laboratory

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