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June 12, 2005

Snot sustains undersea life


Finally some good news. Marine biologists have figured out one of the secrets of life in the deep sea beds of Monterey Bay. Until now, it was unclear how anything could live down there. No sunlight, no photosynthesis, no photosynthesis no plants, no plants, no food for animals.

It turns out we can thank tadpole-like creatures called "giant larvaceans" for secreting huge balls of mucus. The lavaceans live inside these mucus balls until they get too clogged up and gross. At this point, the larvaceans discard their old homes and make new ones. The old dirty mucus balls sink like bombs of carbon and provide food for deep sea animals.

Giant Larvacean Houses: Rapid Carbon Transport to the Deep Sea Floor

Bruce H. Robison,* Kim R. Reisenbichler, Rob E. Sherlock

An unresolved issue in ocean science is the discrepancy between the food requirements of the animals living on the deep sea floor and their food supply, as measured by sediment traps. A 10-year time-series study of the water column off Monterey Bay, California, revealed that the discarded mucus feeding structures of giant larvaceans carry a substantial portion of the upper ocean's productivity to the deep seabed. These abundant, rapidly sinking, carbon-rich vectors are not detected by conventional sampling methods and thus have not been included in calculations of vertical nutrient flux or in oceanic carbon budgets.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, 7700 Sandholdt Road, Moss Landing, CA 95039, USA. Science, Vol 308, Issue 5728, 1609-1611, 10 June 2005.


A live, nude giant larvacean.


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I want pictures!

Close-ups, I mean. That top photo is wonderful, but what *are* giant larvaceans really??

I love Google images. We've now got your basic giant larvacean on display above.

No need to put scare quotes around snot. The high class greek word for this stuff is phlegm. The latin word is mucus. Anglosaxon is the low class version, snot. So you got it right.

As you know, I'm not big on the analytic/synthetic distinction. But surely, if there are any analytically true statements "Snot is secreted only by noses" is one of them.

On the other hand, maybe snot is a natural kind like gold. In which case, maybe it's a necessary a posteriori truth that "snot" refers only to nasal secretions.

Or maybe it's a contingent truth. Perhaps there are possible worlds in which something chemically identical to human snot is secreted by plants.

Or maybe it's false that snot is secreted only by noses. How far into the nasopharynx are snot-secreting cells found? Are there human cells that secrete something chemically identical to snot that we don't think of as falling under the snot sortal?

At any rate, I'm going to take the scare quotes off. They look silly and they create the suspicion of use/mention violation.

Hey, itsnot snot,it is just mucus secretions, filled with dirt and other semi-living matter. Hmm. Ok, itsnot.

are you sure you won't get into some sort of trouble showing a nekkid larvacean? Have you checked it's age to make usre it can consent? That kind of nudity is considered porn in some sectors of society ya know.

I see an opportunity for a new political party, the Naked Larvaceans. The core belief:

Feeding bottomdwellers with our muceous cast offs.

Wait a minute, maybe that's not new.

Maybe we could use these creatures to seed oceans on other worlds (such as Europa) and make them more suitable for life. We could launch them in snot rockets.

This just in: Bush administration proposes tapping undersea Benadryl deposits off California coast.

Seriously, though, this might be good news, in that carbon transport below the upper levels of the ocean has previously been assumed to be very slow; hence both the deepness of the shit we are in due to climate change and the length of the in-shit period are very long ('cos of the length of time taken for the ocean and atmosphere to get into CO2 balance)/ If this speeds the carbon transport to lower levels up, then we may not be as deeply in the crapola. Hooray for mucus!

Ah, those slimes. Good stuff. In his book "Life as a Geological Force," P. Westbroek takes an occasion or two to talk about them. He was the 2003 winner of the Vernadsky Medal, see here ( < >).

And then there is a science text title "Grossology: The Science of Really Gross Things" by Sylvia Brfanzei (Addison-Wesley 1995), the text organized around: Slimy, mushy, oozy gross things; Crusty, scaly gross things; and Stink, smelly gross things. Boogers, snot, eye gunk, farts, b.o. and sweat among the items discussed. It came with a hand lens, too. Perfect for kids 9 to 13 (and some of us are older).

Thanks for the great post and photograph. Life is the best!


Unfortunately, snot is not likely to be the solution to global climate change. While it may be true that falling mucus balls provide a mechanism for getting carbon into the debths of the ocean that is new to science, it is not a new process. Our friends the larvaceans have likely been dropping their snot balls for millions of years.
This movement of carbon has been part of the systems of the biosphere that have managed to maintain a somewhat consistent CO2 level over 1,000s of years. We humans have been able to overwhel the biosphre's ability to store carbon. And this includes removal of CO2 in the form of snot.
For it to have any impact on our current situation, the larvaceans would need to up their production of snot dramatically.

>>For it to have any impact on our current situation, the larvaceans would need to up their production of snot dramatically.

In other words, ask snot what larvaceans can do for you...


Thanks for the hot nude larvacean pix. Snot on!

A 3cm critter in a ONE METER snotball? If that's so, then it's like me shedding my 800sq' house and secreting another one... cheep!
Re .."For it to have any impact on our current situation, the larvaceans would need to up their production of snot dramatically.."-
Maybe all that's needed is larvacean-specific STEROIDS. A 10cm luvvacean should be able to hock up a loogie as big as THE RITZ... or maybe we can hurry-it-up by dumping all the contraband meth into Monterey Bay... ^..^

Its not snot dammit!

Sorry, I work with these things... bad enough nobodies ever heard of them, never mind people thinking the ocean is filled with giant snot balls.

Seriously, its a protein called oikosin on a framework of cellulose (paper, essentialy). Snotballs on their own kleenex, if you want to go with the analogy.

Malachite Green: I have found that malachite green is very bad for algae eaters

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