So this week..I've managed to pull up a pretty weird topic even for me!
Brittle stars that RIDE on JELLYFISH.
yes. that's right. Ophiuroids that "hitch-hike"!!
(much of this will be from a paper by Loisette Marsh in the 9th IEC and a recent review by Kanagaraj et al. 2008)
The species, Ophiocnemis marmorata (Ophiotrichidae), lives throughout the tropical Indo-Pacific, including (but not limited to), Africa, Madagascar, philippines, southern China, Australia and India. This species does apparently live free from jellyfish and has been recorded from soft bottoms (sand and mud)
Rhopilema sp. Based on the locality of Mozambique, this is probably O. marmorata on Rhopilema nomadica. This also is a good time for me to mention why the increasing availability of nature photography is such an incredible asset to biologists everywhere. I'm pretty sure that the image has captured a novel occurrence maybe even a new one for this region...
If one looks closely..one sees that its not just one or two but MANY brittle stars along for the ride!!
Prior records of this species from Mozambiuqe record a jellyfish with ca. 250 mm diameter with 20 to 50 ophiuroids found on the bell!!! (along with a bunch of pontoniine shrimps! clinging to the oral arms). One record from India recorded 829 ophiuroids one one jellyfish with a 280 mm diameter bell!!
Oral arms are the long extensions which hang off the bell around the mouth...Curiously, a panoply of miscelleous critters live in and around the oral arms.. presumably to take advantage of the jellyfish feeding...
and ya' know...that's a good question. So far two explanations have been offered...
1. Food & Protection? Ophiocnemis and other ophiotrichids are small particle feeders and have a great many spines all over their body. They live in and around the oral arms. Perhaps the pelagic larvae, known as an ophiopluteus, which looks like this:
2. Dispersal via 'rafting' Adding a further layer to all of this? Not all of these live in jellyfish. In fact, its been suggested that only smaller ones live on jellyfish, suggesting that they eventually have to 'fall off' the ride..
But Ophiocnemis certainly gets around! Australia, India, Mozambique-all over the tropics! and on a great variety of jellyfish hosts!
This is one of those weird and wonderful things about echinoderms! Sometimes just knowing that it does this weird frakking thing is just the beginning!!!