This specimen of giant cochineal – the name by which crustaceans are known – measures 26 cm and, despite its somewhat frightening appearance, it feeds on decomposing organisms.
An international team of scientists has discovered a new species of giant marine isopod called ‘B. yucatanensis’. These crustaceans are incredibly large, as some specimens can reach a length of almost 50 cm.
The experts found the ‘B. yucatanensis’ five years ago in the Gulf of Mexico, near the Yucatan Peninsula. A team of Taiwanese, Japanese and Australian scientists compared the found specimen with other types of giant isopods and concluded that it differs in color and body structure, according to their study published in the Journal of Natural History.
The giant deep-sea isopods (of the genus ‘Bathonymus’), which inhabit the marine environment, belong to the order of isopod crustaceans, commonly known as cochineals. The ‘giants’ feed on dead animals and are probably biologically related to the tiny piglets that are so abundant in gardens and parks.
A distinctive feature of deep-sea isopods is their incredible size, as some individuals can reach a length of almost 50 cm. Currently, there are about 20 species in the genus ‘Bathonymus’.
The specimen, which belongs to a new species of isopod previously unknown to science, was captured in 2017 in the Gulf of Mexico, near the Yucatan Peninsula, at a depth of between 600 and 800 meters, according to ScienceAlert.
With its 26 cm length, the ‘B. yucatanensis’ described is 2,500% larger than the common mealybug.
Initially it was believed that this specimen belonged to the species ‘B. giganteus’, described as early as 1879 and which had the same number of spines at the tip of the animal’s tail. However, the scientists discovered a series of differences that allowed them to determine that the enormous cochineal belongs to a new species.
The animal found did not resemble another of the marine isopod species ‘B. maxeyorum’, described in 2016. According to scientists, ‘B. yucatanensis’ has more spikes on its tail than ‘B. maxeyorum’, and the color of the shell is brighter.
The results obtained confirmed the hypothesis and allowed the specimen captured in 2017 to be attributed to a new species, which they called ‘B. yucatanensis’. However, the researchers noted that ‘B. yucatanensis’ and ‘B. giganteus’ are closely related phylogenetically and probably stem from a common ancestor.
Scientists remind that the identification of species of marine isopods is important for the conservation of these animals on the planet.
“Some species of ‘Bathynomus’ with commercial potential have become objects of deep-sea trawling [un método de pesca que consiste en arrastrar una red por el agua detrás de uno o más barcos]. To manage Bathynomus farms, it is important to know which species are caught,” the experts concluded.