Posts Tagged ‘Michael d’Estries’


While studying the ocean floor off California’s Channel Islands, researchers found this mysterious species.

By Michael d’Estries

While researching previously unmapped regions of the Channel Islands off the California coast, the research vessel Nautilus came across an unusual purple mass peeking out of a coral crevice. As the scientists zoomed in on the beautiful creature, they began wondering aloud what it could possibly be. After guesses of everything from a species of plankton to a colorful egg sack, the team decided to use their deep sea rover’s vacuum tube to grab the mystery species and bring it to the surface.

“This unidentified purple orb stumped our scientists onboard,” Nautilus posted to its website. “After sampling, it began to unfold to reveal two distinct lobes. This could possibly be a new species of nudibranch.”

Nudibranchs are a group of soft-shelled mollusk comprised of some 2,300 species and noted for their varied and striking colors. They can be found at nearly all depths and feature chemical defenses that make their bodies both distasteful to predators and, in the case of the acid-secreting variety, painful.

http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/blogs/beautiful-deep-sea-purple-orb-has-scientists-baffled

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by Michael d’Estries

Back in 1986, during surveys for the location of a power plant near the Black Sea in Romania, construction workers digging more than 60 feet underground broke into a bizarre, previously untouched ecosystem.

Called the Movile Cave, this subterranean wonder has been sealed for an estimated 5.5 million years. The air is warm and deadly, with noxious gases and little oxygen, the tunnels narrow, the pure and utter darkness the stuff of nightmares. But what has shocked the few scientists who’ve entered this underground Middle Earth of Horrors is that the place is absolutely teeming with life.

More specifically, creepy-crawly life.

Water scorpions, worms, spiders, predatory leeches and previously unknown microbes are just a few of the creatures in Movile. In fact, of the 48 species that have been identified, a remarkable 33 are new to science.

“All the creatures we saw are completely white,” Microbiologist Rich Boden, one of only 30 people to have entered Movile, said in an interview. “None of them has any pigmentation in their body as there is no sunlight — you can see right through them.”

Most of the species also have no eyes, evolution having done away with that sense long ago in favor of longer antennae and arms.

“I thought it was odd that the spiders still spin webs down there because there are no flies, but then you see there are these little insects called spring-tails, which bounce into the air and are caught by the webs,” added Boden. “It really is the stuff of science-fiction.”

Because no organic matter from the surface makes its way into Movile, scientists were at first puzzled as to how an entire world could possibly flourish under such harsh conditions. The answer lies in vast “mats” on the surface of the cave’s waters and walls. These mats contain millions upon millions of tiny bacteria called autotrophs. Instead of photosynthesis, these autotrophs use a process called chemosynthesis, which obtains chemical energy from the oxidation of sulfur compounds and ammonia in the cave waters, explains the Murrell Lab, part of the University of East Anglia’s School of Environmental Sciences. The resulting milky film of microorganisms serves as the foundation for the rest Movile’s ecosystem.

“It’s very likely that the bacteria have been there a lot longer than 5 million years, but that the insects became trapped there around that time,” microbiologist J. Colin Murrell of University of East Anglia told the BBC. “They could have simply fallen in and become trapped when the limestone cast dropped, sealing the cave until it was discovered again in 1986.”

Movile’s unique conditions for life are so alien that the Romanian press quoted one scientist as saying that “if a nuclear war swept out life on Earth, that ecosystem would be a survivor.”

http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/blogs/55-million-year-old-alien-world-hiding-under-romania