Published March 30, 2010
A submarine exploring the ocean's depths recently returned with an unexpected visitor: a crablike critter that has left many readers startled and horrified.
In a posting to social bookmarking site Reddit, a deep-sea technician detailed the finding, asking the site's readers to help identify what exactly the bizarre looking creature was.
The post reads, "I work for a Sub-sea Survey Company, recently this beast came up attached to one of our ROVs. It measures a wee bit over 2.5 feet head to tail, and we expect it latched onto the ROV at roughly 8,500 feet depth. Unfortunately, the e-mail that these pictures were attached to came from a contractor, and the ship he was operating from (and therefore location) is unknown, so I can't tell you what part of the Earth this beast was living."
The pictures reveal the creature to be a giant isopod, a large crustacean that dwells in deep Atlantic and Pacific waters. This particular creature is a Bathynomus giganteus, a deep-sea scavenger that feeds on dead whales, fish and squid.
Scientists have long remarked on the massive scale of this creature. C.R. McClain wrote on ScienceBlogs explained one theory for the size, that "deep-sea gigantism, for all crustaceans, is a consequence of larger cells sizes obtained under cold temperatures," citing a research paper from 1996.
He also speculated that "in crustaceans, bathymetric gigantism may also in part reflect decreases in temperature leading to longer lifespans and thus larger sizes in indeterminate growers."
Responses to the original post ranged from the curious to the horrified.
One reader notes the connection between the isopod and a more familiar household pest: "The giant isopod is related to the "woodlouse"-- turns out this is the common bug that I grew up calling a "roly poly" or pillbug. Neat!"
Others were more disgusted with the crustacean. "I remember watching some documentary (Blue Planet maybe?) with a time lapse of these things swarming a whale carcass. it was horrifying," writes one reader. another
One reader saw nothing but dinner in the flesh of the behemoth bug, writing "It could be because I really like seafood, but those isopods look tasty. Land bugs = ew! Sea bugs = mm mmm good."