Meet the Translucent Crustacean That Lives in the Dark Depths of the Bahamas

A team of international marine biologists has unveiled a new species of isopod, a type of crustacean, that inhabits the cold and dark waters of the Exuma Sound in the Bahamas. The creature, named Booralana nickorum, has a white and slightly translucent body, large eyes, and a distinctive tail that helps it move along the seafloor.

A New Discovery in a Mysterious World

The discovery of Booralana nickorum was made during a series of dives that began in 2014, as part of a collaboration between the Cape Eleuthera Institute and OceanX, a non-profit organization that explores the oceans and supports marine research. The researchers collected specimens for genetic sequencing and observed the physical characteristics of the isopod, which led them to conclude that it was a new species of the genus Booralana.

Booralana nickorum belongs to the order Isopoda, a diverse group of crustaceans that includes more than 10,000 species, ranging from tiny parasites to giant deep-sea scavengers. Isopods are found in all major ecosystems on Earth, from freshwater lakes to deserts to polar regions. They have evolved over 300 million years and have adapted to various environmental conditions.

In the deep seas, isopods are mostly scavengers that feed on organic matter that falls from the surface. They play an important role in recycling energy and nutrients in the ocean. Some isopods can also attack living vertebrates, such as fish and sharks, and can survive for several years without food.

A Unique Adaptation to a Harsh Environment

Booralana nickorum lives at depths of over 500 meters (1,640 feet), where the water is cold and dark. To cope with this environment, the isopod has developed some unique features. One of them is its lack of pigmentation, which makes its hard exoskeleton white and slightly translucent. This may help the isopod blend in with its surroundings and avoid predators.

Meet the Translucent Crustacean

Another feature is its large eyes, which are used to find food in the dark. The isopod has a pair of compound eyes, composed of many individual units called ommatidia, that can detect light and movement. The isopod also has a pair of simple eyes, called naupliar eyes, that are located on the top of its head. These eyes may help the isopod sense the direction of light and orient itself.

The most distinctive feature of Booralana nickorum is its tail, which is composed of six segments called pleotelsons. The tail is flattened and has three pairs of appendages called pleopods, which are used for swimming and breathing. The tail also has a pair of uropods, which are long and pointed and act as rudders. The tail helps the isopod push itself along the seafloor and maneuver in the water.

A Hidden Treasure Chest of Biodiversity

The discovery of Booralana nickorum is the second new species of isopod found in the Exuma Sound, a deep-water basin that lies between the islands of Eleuthera and Great Exuma in the Bahamas. The first one was Bathynomus maxeyorum, a giant isopod that can grow up to 36 centimeters (14 inches) in length and was described in 2016.

The Exuma Sound is a relatively unexplored area that harbors a rich diversity of marine life, from corals and sponges to fish and sharks. The researchers believe that there are many more undiscovered species in this region, and that the isopods are just a glimpse of the hidden treasure chest of biodiversity that awaits.

“This work highlights the cryptic diversity of this group and underscores how little we know about deep-sea ecosystems in The Bahamas,” said Oliver Shipley, a research assistant professor at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University and a co-author of the study. “By uncovering the creature’s role in deep-sea ecosystems, scientists may be able to better understand ocean biodiversity.”

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