God of the Sea (and Horses)

The buccinid gastropod Neptunea amianta (Dall, 1890) is a deep-water species found off the North American west coast. Typically boreal, the range extends as far south as Punta San José, Baja California with depths usually between 300 and 1500m. In approximately 15 years of video sampling by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute with remote operated vehicles in Monterey Canyon, N. amianta has been documented from 100-3500m, yet dense aggregations, uncommon in deep-sea snails, seem to occur only between 200-2000m. This range extends the species into the oxygen minimum zone, where oxygen concentrations of the water column fall to such depleted levels that many species are unable to survive here or require special physiological adaptations. Previous research indicates that low oxygen concentrations can reduce shell size in Atlantic deep-sea gastropods; nonetheless, N. amianta, is a giant compared to other deep-sea gastropods obtaining shell heights of 6cm.
neptunea2.jpgMost species in the superfamily Muricoidea, are carnivores, secondarily evolving to omnivore, herbivory, or deposit-feeding. Typical of its family, N. amianta is scavenger and dense aggregations in Monterey Canyon have been associated with every conceivable type of large organic matter such as dead crabs, dead whales, dead cold seep clams, kelp, and wood. The species has amazing fasting potential. In one published experiment, 5 individuals survived 12 months in aquaria without food, after which the experiment was terminated. All five individuals displayed no clear signs of undernourishment and one produced a large egg case with ~75 juveniles during the seventh month. The remarkable fasting potential and the ability to utilize any food resource are likely responsible for its large depth range and high density.
neptunea3.jpgBuccinids have separate males and females with fertilization occurring internally. Females can produce over 1000 eggs in a leather capsule. In N. amianta, egg capsules are stalked and typically 15-25cm high. Multiple stalked capsules, laid by separate females, are found grouped on a hard substrate such as rock outcropping. The utilization of hard substrate may serve the dual purpose of providing a stable base and allow the egg capsule to extend higher off the bottom into more oxygen rich water. The core of the egg stalk is hollow further allowing for oxygenation of the the egg mass. In some Neptunea species, the first few juveniles to emerge from the capsule will quickly consume unhatched individuals.

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Dr. M (1729 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, a National Science Foundation supported initiative. He has conducted deep-sea research for 20 years and published over 50 papers in the area. He has participated in and led dozens of oceanographic expeditions taken him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses on how energy drives the biology of marine invertebrates from individuals to ecosystems, specifically, seeking to uncover how organisms are adapted to different levels of carbon availability, i.e. food, and how this determines the kinds and number of species in different parts of the oceans. Craig’s research has been featured on National Public Radio, Discovery Channel, Fox News, National Geographic and ABC News. In addition to his scientific research, Craig also advocates the need for scientists to connect with the public and is the founder and chief editor of the acclaimed Deep-Sea News (http://deepseanews.com/), a popular ocean-themed blog that has won numerous awards. His writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web. His forthcoming book, Science of the South (http://www.scienceofthesouth.com/), connects cultural icons of South such as pecan pie with the science behind them.