Monday, March 13, 2006

Animal of the Week March 13, 2006 -- Hairy lobster

Many thanks to everyone who responded to my appeal last week to find out what I had done the previous weekend, I managed to cobble together an erratic journey across London of complicated loops and impossible arcs. When described on a map of this fair city, my drunken ramblings presciently formed a rudimentary sketch of this week's animal, the blind and furry Kiwa hirsuta (hairy lobster [not official]).

As I was looking up this week's animal of the week, I saw the headline "The hairy lobster furmidor" and I thought to myself, that must be The Sun, and lo it was—you may well beat up your husband Rebekah, but, Ms Wade, you and your staff know how to pun. Yes, this week's animal is one of the most bizarre discoveries; not only is Kiwa hirsuta a new species, but it is so distinct from other known crustaceans that a new family within the group has been created for it.

Discovered 1500 kilometres or so south of Easter island, hanging around a hydrothermal vent at 2300 metres below sea level, Kiwa hirsuita is named after the Polynesian god of shellfish—now that's my kind of religion. (I have been trying to find out what the goddess of shellfish did in Polynesian mythology, but the internet is rather taciturn on the matter, if any of you know more I would love to find out.) Scientists remain unsure what the furry cuffs are for, perhaps they are sensory organs to make up for the lack of sight, maybe they help the animal move about. The clusters of setae are riddled with bacteria that may help to detoxify the poisons gushing from the hydrothermal vents or that may even provide food; although, the creature was observed scrapping with crabs for a piece of shrimp, which suggests a rather more refined diet than bacteria, maybe they are where these lobsters keeps the wasabi.

New species are discovered quite frequently (at least four reported in AOTW so far), but a new family, that's something special. I'm sure you all remember the mnemonic King Philip Can Only Find Green Socks, used to help school children remember the major divisions of the Linnaean classification of living organisms (Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species), but to get a better idea of what the discovery of a new family means, it's like knowing that horses exist and then discovering rhinoceroses! In the words of Frank Black: That's educational.

While I don't report all new species, I couldn't resist this one simply because I find the phrase "hairy lobster" so funny, it sounds dirty and is almost as good as "Mums' night off bucket" from the new KFC add... someone surely is having a laugh.


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