A colossal, creamy-yellow woodlice relative that bears a vague resemblance to Darth Vader has been discovered deep beneath the ocean’s surface in the Gulf of Mexico, a new study shows.
With a length of more than 26 centimeters, the creature is 2,500% larger than ordinary rolypoles, or woodlice (Oniscus asellus) who have been found chewing on rotting the case in most people’s backyards. This blond behemoth is the latest addition to a group of about 20 deep-sea crustaceans in the genus Bathynomus which lives in the bottom zone, the deepest parts of the sea, according to a statement (opens in a new tab).
Bathynomus species are sometimes called “Darth Vader of the Seas (opens in a new tab),” perhaps because their heads share similarities with the “Star Wars” character’s helmet, Live Science previously reported. If that’s the case, “vanilla Vader” might be an apt name for this pale new addition to the genus.
Scientists identified the species from a single specimen caught off the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico in 2017, and they named it Bathynomus yucatanensis by region. Bathynomus members look alike, and scientists originally assumed the individual was a known species called B. giganteusone of two previously identified species living in the Gulf, until a genetic analysis suggested it was an unknown species sharing the same waters.
“The ecological diversity of the Gulf of Mexico may be more complex than [previously] thought,” study leader Huang Ming-Chih, an associate professor at the National University of Tainan in Taiwan, told LiveScience in an email.
Related: Massive ‘Darth Vader’ sea bug pulled from waters near Indonesia
Bathynomus species are isopods, a variety of crustaceans that include woodlice. To clear the deep sea, Bathynomus species are rarely seen by humans. The specimen from the Gulf of Mexico used to identify B. yucatanensis came from a baited cage trap set at approximately 2,000 feet to 2,600 feet (600 to 800 meters) below sea level.
The Enoshima Aquarium in Japan held the specimen under the assumption that B. giganteus until Huang acquired it as part of his research Bathynomus. Huang analyzed the sample DNA and found that it differed B. giganteus in the sequence of two genes – cytochrome c oxidase subunit 1 (COI) and 16S rRNA. Another specimen from the aquarium that underwent the same analysis gave a match for B. giganteusand further suggests that the first copy was something else.
“I was skeptical,” Huang said. “Since the Enoshima Aquarium in Japan just bought B. giganteusI’ve always thought so B. giganteus.” Huang studied the morphology of the specimen with two other experts. They found that the specimen with different genes was shorter and slimmer than B. giganteus, with longer antennae and a body shape that looked more like an inverted triangle. Also, the newly identified species’ creamy yellow color set it apart from its grayer cousins. From these morphological differences and the genetic analysis, the team concluded that it was a newly discovered species.
Both species have the same number of spines at the ends of their bodies, called pleotelson spines, which scientists assume is an expression of age and maturity. The researchers noted that this similarity makes it easy to misidentify B. yucatanensis.
Provided that B. yucatanensis is so similar B. giganteusit is likely that the two share a common ancestor, the researchers wrote in the study.
The study was published online Wednesday (August 10) in the Journal of Natural History (opens in a new tab).
Originally published on Live Science.