Who's the Daddy mystery solved after two centuries
August 28 2012 Lewis Smith
The monstrous larva
Darryl L Felder
A “bizarre and mysterious” creature that has baffled scientists for almost 200 years has finally been identified as the larva of a deep sea shrimp.
The armoured larva, Cerataspis monstrosa, was described as a “monstrous and misshapen animal” when it was discovered in the nineteenth century and was originally thought to belong to a new genus and species of crustacean.
Since its first scientific description in 1828, following its discovery in a dolphin’s gut in the Atlantic, researchers realised that it was the larval stage of another animal but only now has the adult form been identified.
DNA analysis has revealed that the larva, which at more than 1.1 cm long is monstrous by marine larval standards, is in its adult form the deep sea shrimp Plesiopenaeus armatus.
"It's very exciting to have solved a nearly 200-year-old conundrum," said Professor Keith Crandall, of George Washington University, who led the team that pinpointed the identity.
He said it was a combination of luck in finding the sample and advances in technology and techniques available only in the last decade that had made the discovery possible.
He added: "Larval-adult linkages not only aid in our understanding of biodiversity, they provide insights into the life history, distribution and ecology of an organism.”
The larvae are a favourite meal for predatory animals such as yellowfin tuna, skipjack tuna and dolphin. The specimen used in the DNA tests was collected at 420m depth in the Gulf of Mexico by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ship Gordon Gunter.
The adult shrimp can live at depths of more than 5,000m. By the end of the nineteenth century scientists suspected that the larva was the young of a deep sea shrimp but no one knew which species until the DNA analysis, reported in the journal Ecology and Evolution, was carried out.
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