Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Tree Lobsters

The title refers to a recently discovered web comic (hat tip to Callan Bently) that I have been enjoying... science humor appeals to me. Browsing through my news today, though, I found an article from BBC, "The deep-sea crab that eats trees." Oh, Kewl! The photo above is more of a crab than a lobster, but the photo that actually leads the article looks like it is a lobster, albeit with much-reduced fore claws.

The general gist is, crustaceans are much more abundant as marine cellulosic detritivores than had been previously recognized. Or, in English, we've long known that plant material- particularly driftwood- gets waterlogged in the ocean and sinks to the bottom. We've long known of various mollusks (e.g. clams and snails) that eat and bore into the sunken wood, and have gut bacteria that help them digest it. This new study shows that there are a large number of crustaceans that have the same ecological niche.

The question that I was thinking about as I read the article was "How did they do this?" I was imagining a trawler with a winch hauling logs up off the ocean floor... not a cheap- or particularly safe- operation. Thankfully, the writer answered that question. The method struck me as kind of elegant. But you'll have to go read the article yourself if want to know.

And just to close the circle where I opened it, here is the latest Tree Lobster:

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