In one of the first experiments of this kind, the scientists placed a dead alligator on the ocean floor to see which fish would eat it. And the researchers got a surprise.
Scientists from the Louisiana Marine University Consortium (LUMCON) dropped two caiman carcbades into the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico in February to understand how terrestrial animals impact ocean food webs.
Video footage captured at a depth of 6,650 feet shows that 18 hours after dropping the first alligator, at least a dozen giant isopods (crustaceans the size of a soccer ball that look like pale pink bugs) They gathered to feed the dead animal.
"Giant isopods are like deep-water vultures," said Clifton Nunnally, badociate researcher at the LUMCON team, to Atlas Obscura. "They're just hanging around, waiting for something big to fall."
And although the researchers expected the isopods to descend on the reptile buffet, they were surprised by its speed. Scavengers are usually heading for a "food fall," in which a deceased aquatic animal settles on the ocean floor in a few days, making 18 hours seem fast, the researchers told Atlas Obscura.
The isopods, which were also joined by other hijackers, including amphipods and grenadiers, tore the hard flesh of the alligators faster than expected. They even managed to get inside the alligator and eat the corpse from the inside out.
"We had badumed that given the hard skin of the alligator, deep-sea animals could take a while to access soft tissues," said Craig McClain, marine biologist and executive director of LUMCON. the chronicle of houston. "But the giant isopods seemed to find soft spots on the skin in the abdomen and in the armpits."
In the 18 hours after the fall of the first alligator, at least a dozen giant isopods congregated to enjoy the dead animal. (Photo credit: LUMCON / YouTube)
In addition to seeing what marine creatures will be eaten by the alligator, researchers aim to shed light on the food webs of the seabed in general, including food webs that included reptiles now extinct that lived in ancient oceans.
Large marine reptiles may have been a large part of the deepwater food chain during the dinosaur era, McClain said. the chronicle of houston.
"When these prehistoric sea monsters died and fell to the seabed, they may have hosted a whole community of deep-sea animals," McClain said. "Are crocodiles and modern crocodiles the last remaining shelters for these faunas?"
The isopods ate the crocodile, which was acquired from the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, to stupefaction. The researchers said that crustaceans have an amazing capacity to store energy and can remain without eating for months (an isopod in an aquarium in Japan managed to live for five years without eating).
Investigators will check the crocodile carcbades in a couple of months to see what's left. They expect to see smaller animals feasting with the remaining flesh, the fragile stars and the tiny fish collecting the remains. McClain and Nunnally also plan to collect the ribs of alligators to determine if any sea creatures, including bone-eating worms, never before seen in this part of the world, will eat the bones.
According to McClain, the experiment also hopes to shed light on a part of the planet that remains unexplored and still "shrouded in mystery." In fact, more than 80 percent of the world's oceans remain unexplored and mapless, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
As McClain said the chronicle of houston"Every sample of life that we bring from the abyss contains a cornucopia of species never before seen by humans and unknown to science."
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