New Zealand scientists from the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) have discovered a new crustacean species that may unlock the secrets of the deep sea. Previously unknown until now, the sand-hopper was found inside another deep sea organism from the Chatham Rise. This is the part of the ocean floor east of New Zealand.
NIWA scientists identified the sand-hopper as an ampiphod species that lived inside another organism known as a bryozoan or moss animal. Marine biologist Dr Dennis Gordon said the sand-hopper's co-existence with the moss animal may be probably the only example of this kind of relationship in the world.
Dr Gordon said finding the sand-hopper is significant since little is known about relationships of organisms in the deep sea compared to marine life in shallower water.
The NIWA scientists identified males, females and young sand-hoppers measuring up to 1 cm long living inside a bryozoan 5 cm in length. They believe that sand-hoppers reproduce while inside the bryozoan. When it dies, the sand-hoppers will move to another bryozoan host.
The scientists were uncertain if the bryozoan and amphipods both benefit from this kind of relationships. It was possible that only the sand-hoppers enjoy the relationship by getting nutrients as well as protection from the bryozoan.
Dr Gordon added that there were many "weird" relationships between animals in the sea, including a type of fish living in a cucumber's rectum and a crab species forcing corals to form a gall or protective covering around it.
New Zealand scientists named the new species of sand-hoppers as "tutus" which means "safe" while the new amphipod genus is Bryoconverson which means "living in Bryozoa."
The Kiwi scientists are eager to find fresh samples for them to conduct a DNA test. Another NIWA marine biologist Anne-Nina Loerz acknowledged there was still a lot to learn about New Zealand's biodiversity.