Population of extremely rare ‘floating city’ creatures made up of multiple smaller organisms is spotted in shallow water off the coast of Australia

  • The benthic siphonophore is made of many smaller organisms working together 
  • They are normally thought to live around 1,000ft (3,000m) underwater 
  • Little is known about this mysterious creature as it is rarely seen or studied   
  • Scientists spotted it off the Australian coast in shallow water in unusual find 

A creature so rare that it has only a few recorded sightings worldwide has been caught on camera by stunned scientists. 

The benthic siphonophore, seemingly a single animal, is actually a ‘floating city’ of many smaller organisms working together. 

It’s so rarely seen that hardly any information exists for the creature, which is related to corals and jellyfish and thought to live at depths of up to 10,000ft (3,000m). 

Scientists stumbled across the rare animal after trawling through shallow waters off the coast of Australia with submerged cameras. 

The benthic siphonophore, seemingly a single animal, is actually a ‘floating city’ of many smaller organisms working together (pictured)

The animal is extremely rare and fragile with only a handful of sightings. It’s so rarely seen that its ecology is almost unknown, though it’s thought to make its home at depths of up to 10,000ft

WHAT IS A BENTHIC SIPHONOPHORE? 

The sea-dwelling creature belongs to the order Siphonophorae, the same as the famed Portugeuse Man O War. 

The creatures are extremely fragile, difficult to collect, and therefore little studied.

Only a few records exist worldwide, so their ecology remains largely unknown.

They are generally found in deep water down to around 10,000ft (3000m).

Siphonophores use their tentacles to anchor themselves to the sea bed and catch passing plankton. 

Now a population of the creatures has been found in shallow waters by a team from the Australian Institute of Marine Science. 

The crew had been towing a video camera through the waters of Kimberley Marine Park in Western Australia when they made the monumental discovery. 

Expedition leader Dr Karen Miller said: ‘We were undertaking towed video surveys to characterise the seabed biodiversity when we noticed lots of what looked like “pom poms”.

‘On closer inspection of high-resolution images, we realised what we were seeing were fields of benthic siphonophores.

‘These creatures are generally found in deep water down to 3000m, and are rarely ever seen; hence why our observation at depths of 100m to 150m is so exciting.’ 

The smaller organisms that make up a siphonophore, called zooids, fulfill different functions, with some specialising in swimming, some in feeding and others in reproduction. 

Most zooids are so specialised that they lack the ability to survive on their own. 

There are 188 types of siphonophore, including the notorious and sometimes deadly Portuguese man o’ war. 

A population of the creatures has been found in shallow waters by a team from the Australian Institute of Marine Science. The crew had been towing a video camera through the waters of Kimberley Marine Park in Western Australia

Rhodaliids are a variety of siphonophore that tethers themselves to the seabed with their tentacles, while their bodies floats above like a balloon (pictured)

Experts have tentatively identified the newly-discovered population as a species of Archangelopsis, part of the rhodaliid family, based on the footage (pictured)

Experts have tentatively identified the newly-discovered population as a species of Archangelopsis, part of the rhodaliid family. 

Rhodaliids are a variety of siphonophore that tethers themselves to the seabed with their tentacles, while their bodies floats above like a balloon. 

Dr Miller said: ‘We have been working with an international taxonomist and we think these siphonophores are likely to be a species of Archangelopsis. 

‘However, they are very hard to identify from pictures and video alone. 

‘To properly identify this species we will need to collect specimens and work with international taxonomists to determine if it is a new species, or one that is known from other oceans.’ 

Collecting samples is no small task. The creatures are very fragile and capturing them will require specialised equipment. 

In the meantime, AIMS researchers will be on the lookout for more benthic siphonophores in Australia’s marine parks.

Source: Read Full Article