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Jellyfish Riding: More Than a Pastime for These Young Lobsters

Dec 16, 2014 02:33 PM EST
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As a young lobster, there was one thing little Ibacus novemdentatus Jr. wanted to do, and that was to ride a jellyfish... so he did. And ever since, all young smooth fan lobsters have taken up this feat, surfing their jellyfish mounts straight into adulthood.

It may sound a lot like a bizarre fairytale, but observervations have revealed that jelly surfing is actually a sport that all young I. novemdentatus, commonly called smooth fan lobsters, practice. In fact, it's a way of life for them, allowing the lobster larvae to conserve energy in order to grow quickly.

"By using jellyfish as food and a vehicle they can eat and rest at the same time," Michiya Kamio, a researcher at Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology, recently explained to New Scientist. "It may be lazy, but it's also very smart."

Kamio recently conducted a study of smooth fan larvae with a number of his colleagues from around Japan. The results were published in the Journal of Experimental Marine Ecology, and detail how these little surfers are less like guests, and more like parasites, actually chewing on their jellyfish mounts even as they are carried around.

In a desperate attempt to rid themselves of their unwanted travel buddies, jellyfish have been observed secreting a thick mucus that can completely engulf the surfing larvae. This makes it harder for the tiny lobsters to breathe, and makes them particularly vulnerable to feasting bacteria, which are drawn to the mucus.

In order to combat this, Kamio and his colleagues found that the lobster larvae spend half their day grooming themselves. What's more, one of their elongated appendages, which is exceptionally smooth compared to most lobster species, has actually adapted to work like a squeegee, wiping the mucus away with startling efficiency.

According to the research team, such an adaptation makes a lot of sense. Traditionally, the appendage that makes a smooth fan's "squeegee" is used for hunting, often rough or even spiked to help a lobster keep hold of its prey. But living in the lap of luxury on the SS Jelly, young smooth fan lobsters don't need to hunt, meaning they can use their limbs for a more hygienic purpose.

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