Researchers trawling the ocean near Antarctica uncovered a new species that looks haunting in photos — but named it after a fruit.
The Antarctic strawberry feather star is a sea creature with 20 so-called “arms” — some bumpy, some feathery — and can altogether be up to eight inches long, Greg Rouse, a marine biology professor at the University of California, San Diego, told Insider.
Rouse, along with Emily McLaughlin, and Nerid Wilson published a paper about the new species in Invertebrate Systems .
The alien-like creature at first does not look anything like a strawberry. If you zoom into its body, a small nub near the top of those long arms, it looks like a strawberry.
The circular bumps on the star’s body are where the cirri — the smaller tentacle-like strings protruding from the base — should be, but were removed to show the attachment points, Rouse said.
“We’ve taken away a bunch of the cirri so you can see the parts that they’re attached to, and that’s what looks like a strawberry,” he said.
He added that the cirri have tiny claws at the end that are used to hold onto the bottom of the seafloor.
The so-called arms are the longer, feathery-like parts of the Antarctic strawberry feather star shown in the image. Rouse explained that they are usually spread apart and aid in the creature’s movement.
The formal name of the newfound species is Promachocrinus fragarius. It belongs under the class of Crinoidea, which includes starfish, sea urchins, sand dollars, and sea cucumbers, and is a type of feather star — hence the less formal “Antarctic feather star” name. Fragarius derives from the Latin word “fragum,” meaning strawberry, according to the paper.
The Professor said that in an interview, there was only one species of the Antarctic feather stars group — Promachocrinus Kerguelensis.
But after dragging a pool along the Southern Ocean in search of more samples, the Australian and US scientists discovered four new species which can be classified under the Antarctic feather stars group.
The Antarctic strawberry feather star stands out in particular due to the number of “arms” it has. “A majority of feather stars have 10 arms,” Rouse said.
Rouse said that feather stars are usually positioned with the arms spread upward and the cirri pointing downward.
With this discovery, researchers could add eight species under the Antarctic feather star category, adding the four new discoveries and “resurrecting” previously discovered animals that were initially believed to be their own species, Rouse said.
“So we went from one species with 20 arms to now eight species — six with 20 arms and two with 10 arms under the name Promachocrinus,” Rouse said.
According to the paper, the Antarctic strawberry feather star was found somewhere between 215 feet to about 3,840 feet below the surface.
Researchers acknowledged in their paper the “otherworldly appearance of the swimming motions of feather stars.”
But finding new species in general is not a rare phenomenon, Rouse said, adding that his lab at the university’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography name up to 10 to 15 species a year.
“We discover many species. He said that the problem was how much work it takes to name them.
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