Monday, July 14, 2008

Akelbaster novaecaledoniae: Weird Starfish of the Month

Its time for cool weird starfish stuff!

Some pics from a cool starfish I described a few years ago...
Akelbaster novaecaledoniae Mah 2007 (click to see citation).

Where from: Off the shelf of New Caledonia in the South Pacific 225-400 m.

Taxonomic Breakdown: Asteroidea; Valvatacea; Valvatida; GONIASTERIDAE; Pentagonasterinae (related to the Australian Tosia and the Australian-NZ Pentagonaster).

The Name: The genus "Akelb-" is an anagram of the surname "Blake" and is named for Dr. Daniel Blake at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in honor of his contributions to starfish paleontology and evolution.
The Starfish: Actually...a pretty small animal. But almost perfectly pentagonal. Only about 2-3 cm diameter but... Wow. One of those animals that just doesn't look natural...

The Weirdness Pt 1: This thing is COVERED by PEDICELLARIAE. Pedicellariae are little claw-like like structures that starfish use to interact with it surroundings (here is a general explanation). But HOW different pedicellariae function in this species is unknown.
Pedicellariae are present on each top-facing marginal plate and even on the dorsal (i.e., the top) facing plates. and then turn it over..and POOM!! There's THIS:
The pedicellariae also cover over almost ALL the ventral-facing plates. Each actinal plate with a complete bivalve pedicellariae!! What are all those little mouth-like pedicellariae things for?? I wish I could tell you.

The Weirdness pt. 2!! The strangeness continues!! When you turn the animal on its side and you can see these two little pits sitting at the junctures between the top (superomarginal) plate series and the bottom (inferomarginal) plate series.
Let's take a closer look at those pits....

Each one of those knobs looks like some crazy spiny horn gone crazy!

What do these do?
In the living animals these are covered by tissue and are pretty tiny..
Mini-current flow turbines? Filter feeding? Aracane Lovecraftian secrets hidden away amidst the armpits of goniasterid starfish? I don't knwo yet..but finding new species like this is often just the FIRST STEP in a cool new story..

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