As we in the Northern Hemisphere grapple with our annual shock about just how little sunlight we must cope with this time of the year, the importance of twinkling lights and sparkly baubles to our mental health and well-being increases exponentially.
At such a time, a marine ornament from a place where the sun never shines is a welcome distraction. Behold this ctenophore captured by the cameras of NOAA's Deep Discoverer ROV above Vailulu'u Seamount during the American Samoa expedition back in February. The way it retracts its long feeding tentacles in reaction to the glare of the probe's lights is nothing short of balletic. You'll want to hit that little box-shaped full screen button in the lower right-hand corner.
A ctenophore (TEEN - o - for) is one of the most early evolved still-surviving life forms on the planet, competing with sponges and cnidarians (the corals, jellyfish, and friends) for the title of Oldest Animal. Like jellyfish, it is a drifting filter-feeder that captures food on long feeding tentacles. Unlike cnidarians, which sting their prey with cells called harpoon-loaded cells called nematocysts, ctenophore tentacles contain sticky cells called colloblasts that glue the prey to the animal. The sparkling you see is generated by enormous paddle-like cilia that line the animals' comb rows and paddle to propel it.
This was not the only magical ctenophore the ship's crew captured recently. In this montage from last year, the first creature is a benthic ctenophore, one that has forsaken the drifting life (and sparkling cilia) of most of its compatriots and permanently attached itself to the seafloor in a spot with a decent current to bring food to it rather than the other way round. In this respect, it is analogous to the dandelion siphonophores I've showcased here twice before. In this video, you'll get to see not one but three different rare and magical sea creatures (and do make it full screen again).
Happy Friday, readers, and remember to savor each magical moment this month. December will be over before you know it.