Scientists have spotted a stunning new type of glowing sea species inhabiting the depths of the Red Sea and thriving on the shells of miniature sea snails. Thought to be distantly related to jellyfish, these “fluorescent lanterns” as they’ve been famously described, are tiny predatory sea dwellers that exhibit a vivid bright green glow, magnificently illuminating the dark environs of the southern Red Sea.
These mystery creatures classified as “hydroids,” glow bright green in their mouth area when in contact with ultraviolet light, researchers say. The species is known to thrive in colonies living on other organisms, similar to other marine hydroids that are found drifting across vast swatches of tropical freshwater regions. They are presumed to be a new species from the genus Cytaeis, with bodies measuring as long as 1.5 millimeters.
According to Viatcheslav Ivanenko of Moscow State University and one of the lead researchers tied to the project, the glowing creatures were spotted on the shells of snails living deep in the sand during the day and emerging into the darkness of night to feed.
“Sea hydroids, unlike hydrae, are often found in colonies and can branch off tiny jellyfish. The unusual green glow of these hydrozoas whose body length reaches 1.5 mm was revealed in the peristomal (or mouth) area of the body.”
Experts have postulated that the newly described animals probably intend to attract small prey with their apparently natural glow, often distinctively evident during evenings as well as under the moonlight. However, the fact that these hydroids are found around sea snails and not any other sea animal remains a mystery, according to them.
A global hot-spot for marine exploration, the Red Sea’s underwater ecosystem is home to hundreds of species of coral as well as thousands of fish species, with nearly 20 percent of these fish found nowhere else in the world. The pristine reefs of the southern Red Sea are known to be teeming with marine life.
The northern Red Sea houses a staggeringly diverse mix of marine life and is one of the most avidly sought dive locations on the planet. The southern end, however, has remained largely untouched, tempting many a marine biologist to probe its depths hoping to uncover the remarkable sea life waiting to be revealed.
Details of the research were published in a scientific journal recently, outlining the outcome of the study
“During a recent biodiversity survey in the southern Red Sea, several Cytaeis-like hydroid colonies displaying fluorescence were collected. The hydroids were epibiotic on small gastropod molluscs. In this study, we examined the fluorescence patterns of these hydroid specimens and compared the observed patterns of distribution and fluorescence with past literature in order to ascertain if such fluorescence patterns are species-specific. Species identification of hydroid colonies remains problematic, and species-specific fluorescence patterns may be a useful diagnostic tool in field identification and taxonomy.”
Back in 2014, a team of researchers from the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) had discovered extensive bio fluorescence in nearly 200 species of ocean fish observed glowing handsomely in different colors and patterns. The findings were unprecedented at that time as fluorescence had never been observed in fish species prior to the study.
Researchers believe that the purpose of the glow exhibited by sea-hydroids has hardly been satisfactorily established, prompting scientists to speculate on the nature and origin of the varying luminescence observed in different hydroid species. Although this particular species has not been officially named, the discovery is being dubbed a major leap forward towards the future exploration and understanding of these marvellous marine hydroid species.
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