Thursday, November 10, 2011

Week of the Abyss cont'd: Giant Isopods.

There's more to the deep sea abyss than long teeth and pretty lights. Although the great majority of the abyssal fish we've covered so far are relatively small, the abyss is home to some true monsters. There is a concept called "deep sea gigantism" that posits that many deep sea animals are larger than their shallow-water counterparts. Nobody really knows why except in the case of tube worms, which are...special.

For everything else, we must assume that the deep sea abyss exists to make us humans believe that there is a hell, and that it is filled with things like this:


Actually, that's kinda cute. What is it?

Giant isopods (genus Bathynomus; Bathynomus giganteus is a favorite) are the abyss's version of the roly-poly, woodlouse, or pillbug. They are native to all oceans with very little difference between species. If you took one of those little stunted millipedes (actually crustaceans), then supersized it to a little over a foot in length, you would have a giant isopod. It's an isopod and it's giant.

Giant isopods are vicious scavengers. They prefer meat, but will take what they can get in the depths of the sea. Once they find a good chunk of meat -say, a whale carcass - they will gorge themselves to the point of being rendered immobile. On the surface world, they will still eat anything they can get, including Doritos.


These oversized pillbugs actually do remarkably well on land. This allows them to be easily studied in comparison to other types of abyssal life. We know that the peak mating time for giant isopods is between winter and spring. Most of them are caught in the Americas, and then put in aquaria with relatively few issues. Given that most abyssal things with spinal cords do not last a day in aquaria, this is quite a feat.

The giant isopod holds the unique honor of being the most memetastic of all abyssal life forms. Not only do they have a lot of funny pictures (both PhotoShopped and real), they have a whole CD's worth of songs. Sure, there are only 5 songs, but this is the most random crustacean-related music I've seen since I heard "Triops Has Three Eyes."

This is a thing.

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