Scientists discovered a strawberry-named sea creature with 20 arms.

Scientists discovered a strawberry-named sea creature with 20 arms.

Researchers discover a new species of Antarctic feather star with 20 “arms”

Antarctic feather star

In a surprising new discovery, researchers have uncovered a new species of feather star near Antarctica. This unique creature, known as the Antarctic strawberry feather star, is a sea creature with 20 arms, some bumpy and some feathery, and can grow up to eight inches long. Marine biology professor Greg Rouse, along with researchers Emily McLaughlin and Nerid Wilson, published their findings in Invertebrate Systematics last month, naming the newly found species after a strawberry.

At first glance, the Antarctic strawberry feather star may not resemble a strawberry, but if you zoom in on its body, you’ll notice a tiny nub at the apex of all those arms that resembles the size and shape of the fruit. The circular bumps on the star’s body are where the smaller tentacle-like strings called cirri should be, but they were removed to expose the attachment points. These cirri have tiny claws at the end, which the creature uses to hold onto the seafloor.

The so-called arms of the Antarctic strawberry feather star are the longer, feathery-like parts shown in the image. They are typically spread out and aid in the creature’s mobility. The newfound species, formally known as Promachocrinus fragarius, belongs to the class Crinoidea, which includes starfish, sea urchins, sand dollars, and sea cucumbers. The less formal name, “Antarctic feather star,” stems from its classification as a type of feather star. The name “Fragarius” is derived from the Latin word for strawberry, “fragum.”

Uncovering other species under the Antarctic feather star group

Initially, only one species, Promachocrinus kerguelensis, was believed to belong to the Antarctic feather star group. However, through dragging a net along the Southern Ocean to collect more samples, the team of scientists from Australia and the US discovered four new species that could fall under this category. The Antarctic strawberry feather star stands out among them due to the number of arms it possesses. While a majority of feather stars have 10 arms, this newfound creature has 20.

Typically, feather stars have their arms spread out and upward, with the cirri pointing downward. With these discoveries, researchers can now add a total of eight species under the Antarctic feather star category. This includes the four newly discovered species and the “resurrection” of previously found animals that were once believed to be separate species. This brings the total count of Promachocrinus species to six with 20 arms and two with 10 arms.

The Antarctic strawberry feather star was found at depths ranging from 215 feet to approximately 3,840 feet below the surface. The researchers also highlighted the “otherworldly appearance” of the swimming motions of feather stars in their paper.

Discovering new species as a common occurrence

While the discovery of new species may seem rare and extraordinary, Professor Rouse emphasized that finding new species is a regular phenomenon. In fact, his laboratory at the University of California, San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography names up to 10 to 15 species each year. The challenge lies in the extensive work required to properly identify and classify them.

The Antarctic strawberry feather star adds to the rich diversity of marine life found in the Southern Ocean. Its unique appearance and the intricacies of its arms and cirri contribute to a deeper understanding of the fascinating creatures that inhabit our planet’s oceans. With ongoing research and exploration, we can expect further exciting discoveries in the realm of marine biology.