The 27 Best Deep-Sea Species: #27 Brachiopods

From now until Halloween, we will be counting down the 27 best deep-sea organisms.  Why 27? Because it is 7 more than 20. 


#27  Deep-Sea Brachiopods or Lampshells

The lowly brachiopod… Today we confuse them for their superficial resemblance to clams* but if it wasn’t for that pesky Permian mass extinction they might be kicking clam butt all over the place. 99% of them are gone, but a few tough-as-nails species hold out near the poles, in the deep, and exotic shallow water places all over the world like Australia and New England. 

How do you know if a brachiopod is dead or alive?  You don’t.  Open up the valves of brachiopod and you’ll discover next to nothing, just a lot of empty space.  The have little living tissue and what they do have doesn’t do a lot.  The breathe and eat little, making them perfectly equipped for the deep sea.  They are sort of the living dead except they won’t suck you brains out. 

They make our list because they represent the antithesis of a charismatic organism and
have their own song written by our very own Kevin.  Video is below the fold… kidding.  What would you film?

*What you would find in a brachiopod, if you had a microscope and looked really hard is a lophophore, a ring of ciliated tentacles around the mouth, an organ they share with the bryozoans and phoronids.  Other bivalves don’t have these.

Dr. M (1801 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Executive Director of the Lousiana University Marine Consortium. 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. Additionally, Craig is obsessed with the size of things. Sometimes this translated into actually scientific research. 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 (, 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.

13 Replies to “The 27 Best Deep-Sea Species: #27 Brachiopods”

  1. but a few tough-as-nails species hold out near the poles and in the deep

    And in shallow water in northern Australia. You guys always forget Australia!

    Carry on.

  2. Forget Australia?
    “This is the wattle, it’s the symbol of our land. You can put it in a bottle. You can hold it in your hand. AMEN!”

  3. And New Zealand. We have many brachiopod species in shallow (ie a few metres) water. All you’d need would be a mask & snorkel Kevin. If you’re coming out for the deep sea coral symposium, pack them and check them out in the Wellington South Coast Marine Reserve :-)

  4. Thanks for this. As one who see their fossils littering the landscape in central KY, I had never really wondered if they still existed. Long time gone I figured, replaced by clams. Glad to learn that they are still around in distant and barren parts of the globe like Austria. Maybe I should learn to wiki or something. Thanks, and it’s a wikiing I will go… rb

  5. Arby – there are no living brachiopods in Austria. In fact, they can’t even point at the sea in Austria! Your mean Australia :-) And besides, ‘distant’ is a relative term. To us, Australia is only next door.

  6. ALS, yeah, I know, I was playing along with kevin z, above. I even lived in Oz, way back in prehistoric times. In fact, kevin, I had the bestest, cheapest schnitzel I’ve ever eaten there. In a little unmarked cafe in an alley above a two-car garage. $1 would buy you a plate of schnitzel, a plate of white bread slices, and a bottle of orange soda. Like I said, way back in prehistoric times. Thankfully, they had invented beer by the time I arrived. rb

  7. Alright everyone simmer down. I didn’t mean to imply that there were no shallow water species. But simply that brachiopods living in the deep and at the poles are both cooler and tougher. I have revised the text accordingly.

  8. Sure New England is exotic … to those of us in Australia. Or is it Austria? I keep forgetting.

    I have revised the text accordingly.

    Sorry, Craig! I didn’t mean to kick off the DSN equivalent of the Spanish Inquisition sketch.

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