Imagine four-pound pillbugs…
If you’ve been following science news the past few days, you might have noticed a spate of articles about a goblin shark being hauled up by shrimpers working the Florida Keys.
Well, as far as the BugWeek Web Team is concerned, the journalists missed the best part of the story.
Now, we have nothing against the goblin shark — it’s big, it’s rare, it has a face only a mother could love — but it’s also a frequent feature of Internet posts of the “what hath God wrought?!” variety, and its 15 minutes of fame should have ended sometime back around 2011.
So why are we talking about it now?
Because photos associated with the story have revealed that the goblin shark wasn’t the only oversized deep-sea critter that came up in the net.
As you can see here, when the net was emptied onto the deck of the shrimp boat, there were at least a dozen giant isopods in the catch.
Known scientifically as Bathynomus giganteus, these arthropods are part of the order Isopoda, which includes the familiar terrestrial pillbug or roly-poly (Armadillidium vulgare). Those are pillbugs in the photo above.
As a matter of fact, B. giganteus looks rather like a pillbug, and will even roll up into a ball when threatened. But here’s one significant difference between the two — B. giganteus is an example of what’s called “deep-sea gigantism,” meaning that these critters can reach astounding size — scientists aren’t sure why this happens in the ocean depths, but the phenomenon affects both invertebrates and vertebrates.
In this case, B. giganteus is known to reach a length of 30 inches and a weight of almost four pounds.
Florida natives on the BugWeek Web Team all had the same reaction — “are these beasts edible?” Apparently so. And they’re supposed to taste like crab or lobster.
And, considering how much work it is to wrest a couple ounces of (oh so delicious) meat from the chitinous compartments of a blue crab, we think that the effort-to-reward ratio involved in cleaning a giant isopod could be so favorable that we’d be more than happy to try one out.
Say, what do shrimpers typically do with B. giganteus, anyway?