The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

She-Devils Of The Deep

One of my obsessions is with creatures of the deep. They’re brilliant. They’re the maddest, weirdest, ugliest, scariest creatures of all. I’m not talking about the guys you get in an aquarium; I’m talking serious abyss boys here.

Take the siphonophores. You couldn’t make them up. They’re like colonies of jellies, but when they get together they effectively become a single organism. Or there’s the football fish, so named because it’s covered in what appear to be bioluminescent stitches. Or there’s the dumbo octopus, so cute, a living blancmange. Or there’s the tubeworms who hang around hydrothermal events – thriving in crushing pressures in water as acidic as vinegar. Or the angler fishes, simultaneously terrifying and ludicrous.

Best of all, though, is the Vampyroteuthis infernalis. Translated, ‘The Vampire Squid From Hell’. Yes, that is literally what it’s called. Isn’t that the coolest animal name ever? It must be great when it’s introduced at parties; ‘And you are...?’ ‘Er... I’m the Vampire Squid From Hell.’

Not that it gets invited to many parties. The Vampire Squid lives in the oxygen minimum zone, the least hospitable part of the ocean, and can somehow exist in waters where most other higher organisms can’t. It has sexy big blue eyes. It’s also a living fossil, like the horseshoe crab and the coelacanth – it’s neither octopus nor squid, but is in an order all of its own.

The best book on these creatures is The Deep by Claire Nouvian. I love it, it’s the picture-book of deep-sea critters I’ve been waiting for all my life. Looking at those pictures is like gazing at aliens; it really strikes home that life has a way of flourishing in even the most inhospitable environments. If they ever find life on Enceladus, it’ll probably be a mad, scary fish.

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