Solumbellula Monocephalus, a Gross Aquatic Polyp, Observed in Pacific Ocean for First Time

Scientists aboard the EV Nautilus research vessel have observed a “sea pen” polyp in the Pacific Ocean for the first time and its “barbed tentacles” and pale six-foot-long stalk make it look like a ghastly flower from the Underworld.

In a fascinating and disturbing new video researchers aboard the EV Nautilus—a 223-foot-long research vessel owned by the Ocean Exploration Trust—showcase a stellar example of Solumbellula monocephalus; that is, a “sea pen” polyp with large tentacles and a lengthy stalk. The polyp isn’t just a gem of a sea monster, however, but also the first one researchers have ever seen in the Pacific Ocean.

In the video above the researchers aboard the vessel—using a remotely operated submarine—observe the sea polyp, which is glued to the seafloor of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument at a depth of approximately 9,800 feet. As with other alien sea creatures researchers aboard the EVNautilus have eyed, this occasion includes a lot of audible excitement.

“Oh wow, it’s so big!” one researcher says upon seeing a close-up shot from the ROV sub. “It’s super tall,” another one adds. Over the course of the two-minute video the submarine is able to capture closer and closer footage of the polyp, with each new level of resolution revealing more details of the ghastly flower of the Underworld. Particularly the creature’s “barbed tentacles” (labeled by EVNautilus in the image immediately below), which the polyp uses to catch “food particles” from passing water.

Image: EVNautilus

Solumbellula monocephalus is a “sea pen.” As Encyclopedia Britannica notes, sea pens are any of the 300 species of the order Pennatulacea. (Pennatulacea is a distinctive group of “soft corals,” or octocorals.) Sea pens—originally given the nickname thanks to their similar appearance to antique quill pens—are colonial, meaning this polyp is physically attached to others in a colony. Each member of the colony is genetically identical to the others, although they can be polymorphic; meaning they can have different morphologies and/or physiologies despite their being a part of one organism with uniform DNA. (This occurs because each member—or “zooid”—of the colony has a specific function within the collective organism.)

In fact, another individual was spotted along with this one on the same dive; confirming a population within the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument—an area of islands and atolls consisting of approximately 495,189 square miles in the central Pacific Ocean.

“Before this discovery of the colony, the animal had never been seen in the Pacific Ocean,” EVNautilus says. “Further review of the footage and this sample will help experts determine if this is the first Pacific [ocean] S. monocephalus or potentially a new species in this ocean basin.”

Feature image: EVNautilus

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