These are a few of my favorite species: almost zombie like brachiopods

Neptune Canada Brachiopods and Brittlestars  During our survey of Barkley Canyon on August 12, 2006 we observed some brachiopods (Terebratulina? sp.) and brittlestars (Spinophiura sp.).

Neptune Canada Brachiopods and Brittlestars from a survey of Barkley Canyon on August 12, 2006  Flickr (cc)

The lowly brachiopod.  They make my list because they represent the antithesis of a charismatic organism. Today the attention they get is mostly by mistake. Brachiopods are often confused for mollusks because of 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 New England.

Photo credit: Laurie VanVleet, Ithaca City School District From the collection of the Paleontological Research Institution (PRI), Ithaca, New York.  Scale line is equal to 1centimeter

Photo credit: Laurie VanVleet, Ithaca City School District
From the collection of the Paleontological Research Institution (PRI), Ithaca, New York. Scale line is equal to 1centimeter Flickr (cc)

How do you know if a brachiopod is dead or alive?  You don’t.  Kidding. But there metabolism is so low it is practically impossible to measure. Open up the valves of brachiopod and you’ll discover next to nothing, just a lot of empty space.  With the little living tissue brachiopods do have, they don’t do a lot.  The breathe and eat little, making them perfectly equipped for the deep sea where food is limited.

They are sort of the living dead except they won’t suck you brains out.

Chris Blanar Brachiopod  One of my favourite animals- a brachiopod called Terebratella. They look like clams but are in fact part of a completely different group of animals. This one has been dissected for a lab exam I was administering to my students, hence the pins. If you're curious, the red pin is pointing to the brachiopod's gonads, while the black pin indicates the specialized structure these animals use to feed, called a lophophore.

Photo by Chris Blanar on Flickr (cc)
The brachiopod called Terebratella. The red pin is pointing to the brachiopod’s gonads, while the black pin indicates the specialized structure these animals use to feed, called a lophophore.

*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.  Bivalves molluscs don’t have these.

Dr. M (1771 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 (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.


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