Deep Sea Spider

Mystery Invertebrate of the South Pacific Ocean.

Physical description: Triangular fore body, 0.52 inches in lengt h. Hind body, 2 inches long, separat ed from t he front by a narrow waist. Five pairs of jointed appendages on the fore body. The first pair seems t o be used as feelers. The second pair is very long and carried high above t he body. The last t hree pairs are walking legs.

Significant sighting: During t he first Dist ur-bance and Recolonizat ion Experiment in a Manganese Nodule Area of t he Deep Sout h Pacific (DISCOL) expedit ion, a scorpion-like animal was phot ographed several t imes at a dept h of 13,616 feet in the Peru Trench on February 12, 1989. Possible explanations:

(1) The animal was t ent at ively ident ified as a Tailless whip scorpion (Order Amblypygi), which it cert ainly resembles. All ot her t ailless whip scorpions are st rict ly t errest rial, as are modern arachnids. However, recent discoveries have shown t hat ancest ors of t he True scorpions (Order Scorpiones) were once primarily aquat ic and were equipped wit h organs called book gills, formed of respirat ory sheet s like t he pages of a book. These scorpions oft en grew large; Praearcturus gigas of t he Early Devonian, 400 million years ago, was more t han 3 feet long. Aquat ic or amphibious species persist ed unt il at least t he end of t he Triassic, 205 million years ago. Some scorpions might have survived by adapt ing t o abyssal dept hs.

(2) Sea spiders (Subphylum Pycnogonida) are marine art hropods t hat are found from intertidal regions to a depth of 23,000 feet. There are at least 1,000 species, but they are lit t le known. Some deep-sea forms grow t o more t han 2 feet across t he legs. Oft en classed as an order wit hin t he chelicerat e art hropods, t hey bear such unusual feat ures (a long proboscis wit h an odd t erminal mout h, a reduced abdomen, a pair of ovigers for carrying eggs, long pouches in t he int est ines t hat ext end to t he end of t he legs) t hat t hey probably represent a sist er t axon to t he Chelicerat a. The second pair of legs of t he DISCOL spider may have been t he ovigers.

Source: Hjalmar Thiel and Gerd Shriever, "The Enigmat ic DISCOL Species: A Deep Sea Pedipalp?" Senckenbergiana Maritima 20 (October 1989): 171-175.

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