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New Fluorescent Something Discovered In Red Sea

Feb 10, 2016 05:00 PM EST
New Fluorescent Marine Species
A new species of fluorescent marine creatures were found living in colonies on the shells of snails.
(Photo : Viatcheslav N. Ivanenko et al./Moscow State University)

Biologists from Moscow State University recently stumbled upon the a new luminous creature while investigating the biodiversity of coral reefs along the Farasan archipelago in the Red Sea. They made the unusual disccovery using ultraviolet lamps outfitted with yellow filters. Unlike their distant hydrae relatives that lead solitary lives in fresh water, these "fluorescent lanterns," as they've been called, form colonies that decorate miniature shells of Nassarius margaritifer snails with green lights. 

"Sea hydroids, unlike hydrae, are often found in colonies and canbranch off tiny jellyfish," Vyacheslav Ivanenko, one of the study researchers from Moscow State University, said in a news release. "The unusual green glow of these hydrozoas (presumably, a new species of the genus Cytaeis, whose body length reaches 1.5 millimeters) was revealed in the peristomal – or mouth – area of the body."

Nassarius snails are only about 20-35 millimeters in length. They are nocturnal creatures who bury themselves under sediment during the day and crawl out to the surface to hunt other invertebrates at night. The molluscs and the fluorescent creatures have a symbiotic relationship where the glowing around the snail's mouth may help attract prey. However, further investigation is required to be sure. 

Flourescence is the glow of some proteins or pigments under light illumination, researchers explained. The recent study suggests "fluorescent flashlights" may be visible to other invertebrates in the moonlight, and at sunset and sunrise.

The discovery, recently published in the journal PLOS ONE, also raises new questions about how the creatures choose their host, how the activity of Nassarius snails and luminous hydroids change during the day, and how the fluorescence varies within species and between closely related species of hydrozoa.

"The fluorescence can be useful for quick identification of hardly recognizable species and for the studies of ecological peculiarities and distribution of hydroids and their hosts – molluscs," Ivanenko said, adding that there are a great number of new species with unusual features still waiting to be found in the Red Sea. 

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