The deep sea is home to some deeply weird creatures. Not many come more puzzling than the giant larvacean called Bathochordaeus charon, a glittering blob that has eluded scientists since 1899.
Only now have marine biologists from Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute been able to confirm the existence of these small, transparent, floating blobs.
They were originally discovered by German marine biologist Carl Chun during an expedition from 1898 to 1899. During this voyage, two examples of the species were found in the South Atlantic and another two smaller specimens from the Indian Ocean. He named them Bathochordaeus charon, after the character in Greek mythology called Charon, whose duty was to serve the god of the underworld Hades by transporting souls of the dead across the River Styx.
However, few specimens have ever come close to Chun’s original descriptions, with all appearing to share more similarities with the confirmed species of giant larvacean called Bathochordaeus stygius. There was so little in the way of hard evidence, it was even doubted whether B. charon was its own species. Perhaps Chun had got it wrong.
This new study, recently published in the journal Marine Biodiversity Records, used “gentle suction” to catch specimens via remotely operated subs off the coast of Monterey Bay in California. On the team’s travels between 2006 and 2013, at least 15 of specimens were collected or observed, most of which were the confirmed species of B. stygius.
However, one individual stuck out. The researchers carried out genetic and physical analysis on this particular blob and determined it was indeed the B. charon species. Just as it was assumed over 100 years ago, Bathochordaeus charon was different to Bathochordaeus stygius.
“It felt like Chun had finally been vindicated after years of doubt,” Rob Sherlock, lead author from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute who found the creature, told Live Science.
Funnily enough, it also made the researchers realize they had spotted B. charon on at least 12 other occasions and never realized.
B. charon sizes vary, but this particular specimen was a big one at around 9 centimeters (3.5 inches) long. They feature a strange mucus net, called a house, around them that is used to catch their dinner as they float.
As for the rest of their lives, such as how they breed and where exactly they live, B. Charon remains as enigmatic as ever.