Giant larvacean

Bathochordaeus charon

ORDER

Copelata

FAMILY

Oikopleuridae

TAXONOMY

Bathochordaeus charon (Chun, 1900), Cape of Good Hope.

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OTHER COMMON NAMES

None known.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Largest of all appendicularians, reaching a length of 1 in (25 mm). Short, broad tail with clearly visible notochord embedded. The gut and gonads are easily seen in the large conspicuous trunk. The house is a series of elaborate tubes and filters used for feeding. A roughly ovoid sheet of mucus that can reach 6.6 ft (2 m) in diameter is continuously secreted above the house for protection and for catching sinking food particles.

DISTRIBUTION

Cosmopolitan in mesopelagic zone (328-1,640 ft [100-500 m]) (Specific distribution map not available.)

HABITAT

Pelagic in deeper waters (328-1,640 ft [100-500 m]). BEHAVIOR

The tail beats slowly inside the house producing a current that moves water and food particles into the filters. The giant lar-vacean discards its mucous sheet and house when disturbed or when food particles clog the filters. Because abandoned mucous sheets and houses are laden with food, detritus-feeding zooplankton, and smaller microbes, they become important contributors of organic materials to the deep ocean as they sink to the botoom.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

The large mucous sheet secreted above the house catches sinking particles, which are strained and directed to the inner filter of the house. The house filters further strain food particles of the proper size onto a mucous sheet, which is eaten.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Little is known except that these animals are hermaphrodites.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Not listed by the IUCN.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS None known. ♦

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