Remote and expansive, the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica remains one of the most mysterious and least-explored regions on Earth. But newly released footage of a creature nicknamed the “headless chicken monster,” captured by specialized cameras three kilometers (roughly two miles) beneath the ocean surface, prove that this world is teeming with weird life-forms.
This colorful creature, known as Enypniastes eximia, is a type of sea cucumber that has adapted to deep sea environments. The species was caught on video for the first time in the Gulf of Mexico in 2017. Now, fisheries cameras deployed by the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD), a division of Australia’s Department of the Environment, have captured it on video for the first time in the Southern Ocean.
“Some of the footage we are getting back from the cameras is breathtaking, including species we have never seen in this part of the world,” said AAD program leader Dirk Welsford in a statement. “Most importantly, the cameras are providing important information about areas of seafloor that can withstand this type of fishing, and sensitive areas that should be avoided.”
With some 1,200 species around the world, sea cucumbers come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. But Enypniastes eximia is unusually mobile for a sea cucumber, because it has evolved specialized webbed structures similar to a jellyfish.
These swimming abilities explain why Enypniastes eximia has been spotted in regions as distant as the Gulf of Mexico and the Southern Ocean. In addition to traveling the world, these animals can also vertically ascend and descend thousands of feet in the water column, which allows them to escape predators and hunt at various depths. They may be dubbed “headless chicken monsters,” but when it comes to clever adaptations for survival, this species is no dummy.
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