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Scientists film largest-ever stringy clone colony at Ningaloo, off WA coast

Charlotte Edwards and Ben Cost, April 14, 2020 6:45PM The Sun

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The siphonophore found off West Australia. Experts think it is in this form to feed. Picture: supplied media_cameraThe siphonophore found off West Australia. Experts think it is in this form to feed. Picture: supplied

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Researchers off the Western Australian coast have filmed a long, luminescent*, stringlike, underwater creature made up of millions of interconnected clones.

Scientists are calling the specimen the largest of its type ever discovered.

The creature is a giant siphonophore.

In New Zealand, it is commonly called a “long stringy stingy thingy”.

Marine biologist Stefan Siebert of Brown University, US, told Wired magazine: “The whole thing looks like one animal, but it’s many thousands of individuals which form an entity* on a higher level.”

This type of siphonophore is also called Apolemia or a string jellyfish.

A team of international researchers came across the creepy creature on the Ningaloo Canyons Expedition.

They were exploring a biologically rich but little-studied area off the coast of WA.

Giant Ocean Creature Found Hundreds of Meters Underwater Off Australian Coast

Biologists Nerida Wilson and Lisa Kirkendale from the Western Australian Museum told ScienceAlert: “Everyone was blown away when it came into view.

“There was a lot of excitement. People came pouring into the control room from all over the ship.

“Siphonophores are commonly seen but this one was both large and unusual-looking.”

The creature hasn’t been officially measured but estimates suggest its outer ring is about 47m long.

It’s made up of tiny individual creatures called zooids.

They can clone themselves thousands of times and have different jobs.

Some have stinging tentacles and attract foods whereas others focus on moving and reproduction*.

They may technically be individual beings but they come together to work like organs in one larger organism.

They are connected by a branch, through which nutrients and nerve signals can be passed.

up close you can see tentacles media_cameraUp close you can see the tentacles of the siphonophore. Picture: supplied

Experts think the giant siphonophore in the video has assumed a feeding position and that’s why it looks a bit like a UFO.

“OMG I have CHILLS. This is an ANIMAL. I’m guessing it’s over a hundred feet (30m) long, forming a spiral in the middle of the deep sea,” wrote Rebecca Helm, assistant professor at the University of North Carolina Asheville, US, on Twitter.

“I’ve gone on numerous expeditions and have never, EVER, seen anything like this.”

“This animal is a kind of jelly,” she added, noting that it’s “made of millions of interconnected clones, like if the Borg* and the Clone Wars* had a baby together.”

It’s likely the WA example isn’t the only anomalous* siphonophore prowling the ocean.

“There are millions, probably billions of underwater siphonophore galaxies out there just like this one,” Helm wrote.

“As we explore the oceans more, who knows what other creatures we will see.”

This is an edited version of stories first published on The Sun and New York Post and is republished with permission.

ABOUT SIPHONOPHORES
They are animals that belong to a group called Cnidaria, which also includes corals and true jellyfish.

There are about 175 known species of siphonophores.

Well-known species are blue bottles (found in Australian waters) and Portuguese man o’ war, both often thought of as jellyfish.

Blue Bottle (Portuguese Man-O-War), Physalia Physalis Picture: Thinkstock media_cameraPortuguese man o’ war. Picture: Thinkstock

Siphonophores are very fragile and break apart easily.

Some are bioluminescent* and glow green or blue when disturbed.

They are all predators and eat small crustaceans and fish.

GLOSSARY

  • luminescent: glowing
  • entity: a thing or being
  • reproduction: making more of something or itself
  • Borg: a group of aliens in Star Trek
  • Clone Wars: a TV series about the characters from Star Wars
  • bioluminescent: naturally able to glow
  • anomalous: different to what is normal or expected

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QUICK QUIZ

  1. Where did they find this siphonophore?
  2. How are individuals in each colony connected? What are the individuals called?
  3. Why are blue bottles mentioned?
  4. What do siphonophores eat?
  5. What does it mean to say something is bioluminescent or luminescent?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Long Stringy Stingy Thingy Rap
Work in groups of 4 to compose your own rap song on the Long Stringy Stingy Thingy found off the coast of Western Australia. Use all the facts and information from the Kids News article to give you information to rap about.

See the example below about how to write a rap here: https://images.scholastic.co.uk/assets/a/93/f8/less-sip-2453.pdf

Perform your rap to the class.

Time: allow 25 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Music

2. Extension
Write an Acrostic poem for the scientific name of the creature ‘siphonophore’ using facts from the article.

Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity 
Curriculum Links: English

VCOP ACTIVITY
Verb adventures
With a partner see if you can identify all the doing words/verbs in this text. Highlight them in yellow and then make a list of them all down your page. Now see if you and your partner can come up with a synonym for the chosen verb. Make sure it still makes sense in the context it was taken from.

Try to replace some of the original verbs with your synonyms and discuss if any are better and why.

HAVE YOUR SAY: Describe and name a movie or documentary you’d like to make about this creature.
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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