A jellyfish-like creature called Nanomia bijuga is a gelatinous moving mass without a central nervous system and non-complex muscles, but the strategy it employs to move around and dodge predators amazes researchers.
Just like the Portuguese man-of-war (pictured), N. bijuga is not a solitary animal. Instead it is a huge colony made up of many individuals that can be called identical twins from a geenetical point of view. Yet, every member has a precise role when the colony tries to perform amazing undersea maneuvers or reach surface to feed.
Although the creature may look as a single animal, it is made of thousands of tiny animals that can act as a single unit in the most dangerous situations. Surprisingly, the colony is incredibly fast and versatile when it comes to dodging predators, researchers noted.
“They can go sideways. They can do loop the loops. They can back up,”
said Jack Costello, study co-author and researcher with the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.
The secret of the creature’s agility is teamwork, researchers argued.
The strange animal belongs to the siphonophore order, which means that each member of the colony is a clone of the other members. In the world there are currently 175 siphonophores with the Portuguese man-of-war being one of the most popular. Some siphonophores, however, impress with their size. There are species that can reach 40 meters in length.
Although colony members are genetically identical, their roles within the colony are very different. The animals that are located up front are called nectophores and they act like the main engine and steering wheel of the entire organism.
Those located in the back are specialized in capturing prey and reproduction, but the heart of the system is the nectophores, which stem from a central structure dubbed the nectosome. As the creature grows older, the nectosome produces new nectophores which replace the older ones in leading positions.
Researchers used slow motion cameras and fluorescent ink to detect the smallest changes within the colony when moving. The team learned that older nectophores use jet propulsion to steer the entire colony. The tiny creatures’ combined jets provide the creature with a powerful thrust that can drive the N. bijuga over hundreds of feet on a daily basis. It is like the strange animal runs in a marathon every day but at the same time it tows another creature the same weight and size behind.
Image Source: Wikipedia