Absurd Creature of the Week: The 100-Foot Sea Critter That Deploys a Net of Death

As far as conjoined twins go, they don’t come more famous than Chang and Eng Bunker, who in the 1800s traveled the world lecturing and generally being gawked at by rubes. They even gave us the term Siamese twins (they were from Siam, which is now Thailand). Eventually they settled down on a farm in North Carolina, married two sisters (uh…), and between them sired 21 children.

The logistics of that seem, well, a bit complicated, if not entirely awkward. There are conjoined twins in our oceans, though, that pull off something far more remarkable. These are the siphonophores, some 180 known species of gelatinous strings that can grow to 100 feet long, making them some of the longest critters on the planet. But instead of growing as a single body like virtually every other animal, siphonophores clone themselves thousands of times over into half a dozen different types of specialized cloned bodies, all strung together to work as a team—a very deadly team at that.

“In a way these specialized bodies function as organs,” said marine biologist Stefan Siebert of Brown University, who studies these glorious creatures with the help of remotely operated vehicles from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. “Some move the colony, some feed for the colony, some take care of reproduction.” Whereas creatures like you and me have over millennia evolved different parts of our bodies to work as organs, siphonophores have evolved individual bodiesthemselves into organs. It’s a bit like your liver up and declaring independence from the rest of you, even though it can’t go anywhere.

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(via alxndrasplace)