Critter of the Month - Vent shrimp

This month's critter can see hot bodies in the darkness of the deep sea.
04 April 2011

Interview with 

Tim Shank, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution


Deep sea biologist Tim Shank picks a Critter of the Month with a few hidden surprises - a shrimp that lives on deep sea vents.

Tim - I'm Tim Shank. I'm a biologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. And if I had to be a critter in our ocean I'd be a deep-sea animal, for sure. And I would be one that lived at hydrothermal vents and I think I would be a shrimp, actually.

Vent shrimp Rimicaris exoculataThey don't live that long, I don't think, but the reality is these guys can move and they can move throughout the vent system. And what's so cool about them is that they farm their own bacteria in their gills. They hover around the vent water and these microbes love their gills, and the microbes grow and the animals just sit there and they farm off, they pick off the bacteria.

And they have this really cool adaptation: they don't have eyes like normal shrimp. Okay, they've lost their eyes, they've lost their eye stalks. And instead they have this plate that sits on the front of them where their eyes would normally be. And their eye has migrated back to on their backs.

We believe that they can see with this little organ on their back that allows them to see black body radiation - the heat coming from the vents. We think they can image that and see it.

So how cool would that be, to fly around the deep-sea, looking for hot spots like that, looking for a dim glow of light that's a hydrothermal vent. You roll up to the vent and you have nice warm bath of water and you can farm microbes right there. I think that would be so cool to be one of those.

Find out more

Rimicaris exoculata
on Sealife base

Tim Shank's lab at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution


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