Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Interesting Animals: Giant Isopod

These are some of the strangest looking animals I have ever seen. There's even a gallery at Flickr.com dedicated to this species.

Bathynomus giganteus, the largest of the isopods, is quite startlingly large.
Isopods are crustaceans, but they are not like the crustaceans that most people are familiar with. They lack the carapace that is seen in most crustaceans (such as lobsters and shrimp), and have a fully segmented body instead. They also have compound eyes that are not stalked and bodies that are flattened. Isopods are distributed all the way from the depths of the oceans to land, where numerous species are known by such common names as "wood lice" and "pill bugs."

B. giganteus next to a scale (in cm)
The giant isopod stands out as being one of a kind. The largest example of the species that has yet been found was over two feet in length. However, they are usually only one and a half feet in length. They are deep sea scavengers, feeding on whatever they can find in the cold, dark depths of the ocean. It is not uncommon for deep sea animals to be surprisingly large, and this species is no exception. Like pill bugs, the giant isopod can also curl into a ball for protection. The species is often described as such things as a "giant woodlouse," and it is a rather apt description due to the species' similarities to the terrestrial crustacean.

Here is a video of these strange creatures scavenging a tuna, narrated by the ever-great David Attenborough. Begins at 0:30.

Sources are Biology of the Invertebrates, Seapics.com, and Daily Mail. Images are from Wikimedia Commons and are copyright free: one, two.