This Crazy Anemone Hangs Upside Down From the Antarctic Ice Shelf

Edwardsiella andrillae pop their tentacles out to feed

01_21_2014_anemones in antarctica.jpg
Frank Rack, ANDRILL Science Management Office, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Whenever scientists think to themselves, “well, there can't possibly be anything alive down there,” lo and behold, soon as they take a look, there's life in the most inhospitable of places—alkaline lakes, water droplets in the clouds, the bottom of the sea. For example, in the frigid waters beneath Antarctica's Ross Ice Shelf, says the CBC, researchers working with a robotic explorer found a previously unknown species of anemone living within the ice.

The scientists were working on a project called ANDRILL—Antarctic Geological Drilling—for which they were planning to drill down through the ice. In preparation, they were testing a new remote underwater vehicle to survey the ice shelf's underside. CBC:

But when the robot went down into the liquid water, “the ice looked fuzzy,” says [ANDRILL Science Management Office director Frank] Rack. When the team drifted the rig up for a closer look, “that’s when they discovered the anemones sticking out of the ice.”...

The brilliantly white anemones that speckled the ice, now named Edwarsiella andrillae in honour of the ANDRILL program, can extend to about seven centimetres long with their tentacles reaching into the fast-flowing water stream to filter out tiny particles to eat. Or they can shrink down to about two centimetres long and fully retreat into the ice for protection.

The new species of anemone was a serendipitous find, and a representative of the wacky world beneath the ice, says a release from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

In addition to the anemones, the scientists saw fish that routinely swam upside down, the ice shelf serving as the floor of their undersea world. They also saw polychaete worms, amphipods and a creature they dubbed "the eggroll," a 4-inch-long, 1-inch-diameter, neutrally buoyant cylinder that seemed to swim using appendages at both ends of its body. It was observed bumping along the field of sea anemones under the ice and hanging on to them at times.

 It's starting to seem like the more difficult challenge would be to find a place on Earth where life can't survive.

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.