Antarctica’s Freaky Creatures

While the Antarctic continent may be a cold and icy chunk of land, its surrounding waters are teeming with all sorts of wonderful and borderline bizarre life. Some of the most fascinating creatures are only found in this corner of the world. And there’s so much more than just seals, penguins and krill; there are also scale worms, sandhoppers and even sponges made of glass. Antarctica is truly a world of its own. Here are some of the freakiest creatures found in this strange place.

1. The Comb Jelly

They’re easy to miss because of their soft and transparent bodies, but lying in the Antarctic waters are comb jellies, a species of ctenophores with eight plates or comb rows of cilia. Comb jellies come in a variety of shapes and sizes—some are bell-shaped, others spherical. They make their homes near the ocean’s surface because they thrive in acidic and warmer waters, which is the result of higher levels of carbon dioxide. Whenever their paddles come into contact with light, comb jellies will glow in a beautiful range of colors, a trait that makes them stand out from most other organisms.

2. The Scale Worm

One of the most bizarre marine worms in the world is the Antarctic scale worm which lives along the continent’s coastlines. These flat, short worms are members of the Polynoidae family and are covered in scales known as elytra. On average, their bodies measure about 20 centimeters in length and 10 centimeters wide. If its general appearance wasn’t weird enough, the worm’s head is actually a retractable mouthpart that can be turned inside out and folded into its body. When it’s time to feast, the worm will unroll its long proboscis, an elongated appendage from its head, then rip its prey apart.

3. Antarctic Feather Star

At the bottom of the Southern Ocean lies the Antarctic feather star or the Promachocrinus kerguelensis, as it’s known by scientists. These critters love the cold waters and can be found closer to the continent’s coastline. Though what makes this species of feather star different from others is that it isn’t as dense and feathery as it appears to be. Its arms are actually really light and the feather star uses them to filter food from the water and to swim gracefully in whatever direction it wishes to move in.

4. Glass Sponges

The glass sponges found in the Antarctic waters are nothing like their tropical counterparts. Their skeletons are made of silica, a chemical compound that makes up glass. They’re far from picky eaters too; glass sponges will devour just about any organic debris that comes its way. They were only discovered in 2013 by marine biologists and have been increasing in population since the ice shelves started melting. Unraveling the mystery behind glass sponges will help scientists not only understand the ecology of sponges but also understand some of the reasons behind climate change.

5. The Sandhopper

Sandhoppers are mostly aquatic creatures that live in the frigid Antarctic waters but they can be found on land as well. It gets its name from a defense mechanism that allows the critter to jump very far when it feels threatened. It does this by tucking in its tail, then flipping it out into the distance. If you feel weirded out by their appearance, just think of them as seafood like lobster, shrimp and crab. They’re crustaceans after all…amphipods to be more specific.

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