This Deep-Sea Predator is the Love Child of a Macaron and a Snork

snork&macaroonIn the shallow waters where sunlight penetrates, life is easy because food abounds.  In the deep sea, life sucks because food is scarce.  In landscape of the oceans, shallow water is a suburban enclave and the deep sea is the mean urban streets.

Sea squirts, aka tunicates, in shallow water are more like, “Hey look at me! Food is everywhere.  I’m just gonna sit her on my fat tunicate ass, play GTA5, and filter that yummy food out of the water.”

But shit is real in the deep sea. .  Players got a play different game. Don’t let the fact that Dicopia antirrhinum looks like a French meringue cookie fool you; this bad boy is a predator. Typical tunicates possess two siphons, an incurrent or oral siphon and an excurrent or atrial siphon.  In the deep-sea tunicate family Octacnemidae the oral siphon is enlarged and contains lobes.  These lobes work much like a Venus Fly Trap, closing to capture motile prey.  In D. antirrhinum, the oral siphon is greatly enlarged forming a big horizontal slit surrounded by two lips.

Tadult_lowThe atrial siphon is located on D. antirrhinum’s top.  Stare closely and long enough and you will see my favorite Hanna-Barbera cartoon character from the 80’s—a Snork.  Of course a big mouth is no good without some muscles to back it up.  And o’ do muscles flourish! Circular muscles surround the lips, longitudinal muscles run both along the top and bottom of the mouth, and set of oblique muscles link the corners of the lips right the digestive system. Tiny crustaceans are not leaving this tunicate trap.

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Impressed yet? Well, consider that the name antirrhinum is homage to the genus of flowers Antirrhinum.  You know the flowers better as snap dragons so called because the flowers resemble the face of a dragon that opens and closes its mouth when laterally squeezed.

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A. Mecho, J. Aguzzi, J.B. Company, M. Canals, G. Lastras, X. Turon (2013)  First in situ observations of the deep-sea carnivorous ascidian Dicopia antirrhinum Monniot C., 1972 in the Western Mediterranean Sea. Deep-Sea Research, Pt. 1

BONUS: In quality only USA and Hanna-Barbera in the 80’s could deliver here is the opening to the Snorks.

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.

3 Replies to “This Deep-Sea Predator is the Love Child of a Macaron and a Snork”

  1. So does this species have a shorter “neck” than the other predatory tunicates? And does it have a rougher, more opaque surface or is it just covered in muck? Seems like it aims for more camouflage.

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