S'pore researchers find never-seen-before supergiant 'sea cockroach' in Indonesian waters

New species.

Zhangxin Zheng | July 15, 2020, 10:27 PM

A group of 31 researchers and support staff went for an 14-day expedition to survey the uncharted deep sea off the southern coast of West Java in Indonesia in 2018 have made an interesting discovery.

The expedition was led by the Head of Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum of the National University of Singapore, Peter Ng.

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Scientists from NUS (including @LCKNHM) and @LIPIIndonesia have already identified more than 12 NEW species of deep-sea creatures 🦀🦐🐟 from over 12,000 specimens collected during the recent ⛴ #SJADES2018 🗺 South Java Deep-Sea Biodiversity Expedition! 🌏 #NUSGlobal #NUSResearch - Read about the new discoveries, nus.edu/newsnow. Link in bio! - #Singapore #NUS #NationalUniversityofSingapore #lkcnhm #linusgoesglobal

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It included other researchers from the Museum, the NUS Tropical Marine Science Institute, and the Research Center for Oceanography (RCO) of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI).

The team collected more than 12,000 creatures from 63 survey sites at an average depth of 800m, with the deepest at 2,100m.

About 800 species were uncovered, and some that were collected include sponges, jellyfish, starfish, urchins, worms, crabs,and fish.

12 new species were also identified from this survey.

Two years on, the team has confirmed that another new species has been identified from the expedition.

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During an expedition, there are some animals which you find unexpectedly, while there are others that you hope to find. One of the animal that we hoped to find was a deep sea cockroach affectionately known as Darth Vader Isopod. The staff on our expedition team could not contain their excitement when they finally saw one, holding it triumphantly in the air! #SJADES2018

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Yes, it is this cockroach-looking critter.

This supergiant isopod is now bestowed with the scientific name Bathynomus raksasa:

via St. John's Island Marine Laboratory/Facebook.

via lkcnhm/Instagram.

What are isopods?

Isopods are distantly related to crabs and shrimps, and are crustaceans. They received the "sea cockroach" nickname for looking like common cockroaches.

While most marine isopods are tiny, there are large ones too.

Giant isopods are usually found in the deep waters of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans.

They can grow up to an average size of 33cm.

Photo of the front view of one species of giant isopod Bathynomus giganteus, via Wikipedia.

For those that can grow up to 50cm, they are classified as "supergiants".

There are currently five “supergiant” species in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Two were found in the Western Atlantic, as well as the new one found in Indonesian waters for the first time.

There are now 20 species of giant isopods, including this newly-discovered one. These deep-sea giant isopods are scavengers that feed on dead marine creatures.

However, food can be scarce in deep waters, so they might be able to survive without food for years, according to Miranda Lowe, the Principal Curator of Crustacea at London's Natural History Museum.

Some isopods can grow to gigantic sizes because they have few natural predators at the depth where they inhabit and/or the need to store more oxygen in the body, Lowe suggested.

As the deep seas remain rather inaccessible and require expensive equipment for survey, much about these creatures remains unknown.

Top photo via St. John's Island Marine Laboratory/Facebook