New Species of Sea Anemones Hang Upside Down from Bottom of Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf


The Antarctic Geological Drilling team (ANDRILL) found a new species of tiny sea anemones while exploring Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica. Edwardsiella andrillae was discovered hanging upside down underneath the ice shelf just like flowers hanging from a ceiling.

"We were doing survey work and melted a hole through 260 meters of ice," Frank Rack, ANDRILL's executive director. "We deployed the robot and as it got closer, the cameras detected anemones."

Discovered in December 2010, the anemones were opaque-white in color, measured about .63 to .79 inches in length and had stringy bodies topped with tentacles. Although, other sea anemones have been found in Antarctica, this is the first species of sea anemone to survive underneath the ice as most of them live on (holding on to rocks or reefs) the seafloor.

Scientists have yet to solve mysteries concerning white anemones, including how they survive freezing temperatures, reproduce and infiltrate the ice. Some sea anemones dig into the sand with the help of their tentacles or by expanding and deflating the base of their body. But that certainly don't work for hard ice.

Marymegan Daly, a specialist in sea anemones at Ohio State University, to whom the species was sent in for analysis, said that these white creatures are similar to water balloons. They have weaker muscles and don't possess anything sharp that might have assisted them in penetrating the ice. It is like an earthworm burrowing into an ice cube.

" It is an absolutely astonishing discovery and just how the sea anemones create and maintain burrows in the bottom of the ice shelf, while that surface is actively melting, remains an intriguing mystery," Scott Borg, head of the Antarctic Sciences Section in the NSF's Division of Polar Programs, said in a statement. "This goes to show how much more we have to learn about the Antarctic and how life there has adapted."

Apart from the unique species of sea anemone, the researchers also noticed several other types of sea critters living underneath the Ross Ice Shelf including polychaete worms and amphipods.

"There's krill and jellyfish, but there's an organism that we don't know what it is," said Rack. "It looks like an egg roll," abc reports.

The finding has been published in the journal PLoS One.

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