Evolution is the most creative force on the planet. Everywhere we look, we find species with novel and phenomenal adaptations that put their comic book brethren to shame. In no ecosystem is this more apparent than in the vast and unfathomable ocean. Marine species, especially those in the deep sea, have evolved to survive in a environment that is completely alien to us. Several months ago, I unveiled “Five organisms with real super powers that rival their comic book counterparts“, but that was just the beginning. Without further adieu, I give you 5 more marine organisms that put their superhero counterparts to shame (and one bonus critter).
The blind shrimp with super senses
Rimicaris exoculata – http://eol.org/data_objects/13231836
In the deep sea, eyes are not among the most useful sense organs. While many deep-sea species have extremely reduced eyes, some have abandoned these organs entirely. Rimicaris exoculata is a shrimp endemic to deep-sea hydrothermal vents in the mid-Atlantic that is completely eyeless. Its carapace is smooth, without even a hint of reduced, vestigial eyes. This, unfortunately, is a problem because Rimicaris exoculata is a farmer. The blind shrimp grows bacteria in its gill chamber, bacteria that can convert the chemical-rich hydrothermal vent fluid into food for the shrimp.
For lack of a more descriptive adjective, hydrothermal vents are hot. Some can exceed 400°C. Rimicaris exoculata needs to get close to this hot vent fluid to feed its crop of bacteria, but not so close as to become a hydrothermal hors d’oeuvre. And so, the blind shrimp evolved a completely new light-sensitive organ mounted on the top of its carapace–the rhodopsin-rich dorsal eyespot.
The dorsal eyespot of Rimicaris exoculata doesn’t “see” in the normal sense, there is still almost no light in the deep sea. Rather, this shrimp is adapted to detect the black body radiation emitted by the hydrothermal vent. For Rimicaris exoculata, the deep sea glows with the light of super-heated hydrothermal fluid, allowing it to both find food for its bacterial crop and avoid getting cooked itself.
It should be no surprise that Rimicaris exoculata is undoubtedly the favorite deep sea organism of another blind champion with super senses–Daredevil.
Seriously, is no one else bothered by the fact that his trident has five points? Aquaman: The Trench. From DC Comics.
After reducing Aquaman to a hypothermic, hyposmotic, constantly famished, case study in psychological trauma, I figure that I owe the king of Atlantis a second chance. After all, Aquaman was and still remains the most interesting hero in the DC universe. A generous fan sent me a copy of Aquaman Volume 1: The Trench, arguing that the New 52 version of everybody’s favorite aquatic hero is even more compelling than previous incarnations, with a stronger backstory, powers that make sense, and plenty of humor.
Last time I paid the hapless mariner a visit, many readers interpreted my incisive criticism of the science behind Aquaman as evidence that I had it out for our scale-clad hero. Since you all know that I’m going to take the misguided marine science in this volume to task, let’s start with all of the good stuff in this reimagination of DC’s oft-mocked champion.
The central conceit of New 52 Aquaman is that the comic book world has the same perception of Arthur Curry that we do–a hero with oddly specific and mostly useless powers that talks to fish. In addition, the citizens of the DC Universe believe that Atlantis is a fairy tale, so Aquaman’s kingly status is meaningless to the surface dwellers. The hybrid of a human father and Atlantean mother, Aquaman feels out of place in Atlantis and chooses to return to the surface with his wife, Mera. Comparing himself to his lighthouse-keeper father, he explains that even though he loves the sea, someone must protect the shore.
Rimicaris exoculata, the eyeless vent shrimp is an iconic member of hydrothermal vent communities on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The shrimp is characterized by a lack of eyes, an enlarged carapace, chemoautotrophic symbionts that they farm in their gills, and, most curiously, large photoreceptors on the top of its carapace. A solution to the mysterious eyespots was first hypothesized by Cindy Lee Van Dover, who inferred that Rimicaris exoculata can “see” low-level light produced by hydrothermal vent effluent.
Iconic, novel, biologically fascinating; of all the adjectives I can think of to describe Rimicaris exoculata, the one that jumps immediately to mind is sort-of-canoe-shaped. In fact, it’s so sort-of-canoe-shaped that this hydrothermal vent shrimp needs to have a canoe made in its image.
Presenting the grand unveiling of Project S – the Rimicanoe (sensu strictissimo Rimicaris exocu-yacht-a)!
Project S revealed! The Rimicanoe!