The ocean depths are filled with creatures that most of us have never seen before. But when there’s an organism that can grow up to the size of a sperm whale, we’re wondering how we’ve never heard of it before. It’s these giant hollow worm-like entities which have left us baffled and they are known as pyrosomes.
Pyrosomes are giant tubular beings which are actually made up of hundreds or thousands of animals called zooids. Zooids are multicellular but join together to form a colony. They have the ability to reproduce asexually and sexually, allowing the colony to expand rapidly. In pyrosomes, they join together to form this large alienesque gelatinous tube.
These tubes can be found in all shapes and sizes. Some are only a few centimetres long, while some have been found to grow up to 60 ft (18m) in length. Almost the size of a sperm whale!
Their presence has often spooked deep sea divers who’ve never encountered them before. In a BBC 2 production called Nature’s Weirdest Events, Presenter Chris Packham talks to a diver who encountered a gigantic pyrosome off the coast of Tasmania:
Likewise many have taken to social media to share their encounters with these bizarre creatures:
People have likened their resemblance to plastic bags, giant eels and even feather bowers, as some have a ‘fluffy’ looking exterior. Up close you are able to see the hundreds and thousands of zooids within the structure:
Due to their appearance, a diamond-shaped squid egg mass is often mistaken for a pyrosome. Both have a hollow tubular structure, but upon inspection, you can see they do look quite different. The egg mass has a more speckled appearance and contains distinctive banding:
The zooids themselves filter feed. They suck in water, filter small particles and blow the waste back out. This action actually propels the colony. While the movement is very slow, according to New Scientist, when the zooids pause this process, the colony can sink 500-700 metres. This allows the pyrosome to move out of harm’s way and some have even been seen as far down as 3000 metres.
Another amazing adaptation is that the colony can glow when disturbed. Their bioluminescence is triggered when they brush past an object, but some have also suggested that it is light activated.
While a lot of things remain a mystery about these creatures, scientists are learning more about them every day. It’s just incredible to think how we’ve only just heard of them.
The wonders of the ocean!