Light falls on new species

A new species of deep-sea animal has been discovered, which uses glowing red tentacles to lure small fish to their deaths, Science magazine reports.

The species, which has not yet been named, belongs to the genus Erenna , which is a member of the group that contains corals and jellyfish.

Initially, scientists were surprised the creature used red light, which is known to carry only short distances.

But they think it might be imitating a certain shrimp, which also glows red.

“These shrimps eat fluorescent material when they are grazing, which has red fluorescence in it. In a blue light environment, it would cause their guts to fluoresce red,” said Steven Haddock, of Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, California, US.

“So if the fish could see this light they could potentially use it to hunt.”

And if fish did hunt by following red light, it would be a “clever” evolutionary strategy for fish predators to mimic that light to attract their hapless prey.

“Some deep-sea fish have sort of night-vision goggles,” said co-author Casey Dunn of Yale University.

“We are proposing that these fish are looking for red.

“If one comes close and sees this bright red twitching thing, that would really catch its attention.”

But the new species of Erenna is, itself, totally blind. Although light is used as bait by other predators (most famously by the deep sea angler fish), it has never been observed in an animal that cannot see, Dr Haddock claims.

“It is unusual that it uses light,” he told the BBC News website. “It is the first instance we have found in an animal that doesn’t have any eye-balls itself.”

The new creature is rather bizarre looking.

Dr Haddock described it as being the length of a French baguette with the diameter of a broom handle.

“One end propels it through the water and the other has tentacles for feeding,” he explained.

It inhabits depths of between 1,600m and 2,300m around the Pacific basin and maybe much further afield.

But as yet, little is understood about this and many other creatures that lurk far beneath the sea’s surface.

Source: BBC News/Science