Sunday, September 27, 2009

Hydrolagus melanophasma - Try not to laugh

We have been avoiding this one since it broke last week, but after careful consideration, here it is.

Yes this is shark news, and yes it is science so try not to laugh:

A new ghostshark species has been identified off the coast of Southern California, and it’s darker and weirder than any shark we know.

The purplish black ancient relative of the modern shark comes packed with a suite of odd features that give its taxonomical family the name chimaera, after the mythical beast made from the parts of many animals.

“It’s a big weird looking freaky thing,” said ichthyologist Doug Long of the California Academy of Sciences. “They have some shark characteristics and they have some that are very non-shark.”

Perhaps the most intriguing feature of the newly described species, Hydrolagus melanophasma, is a presumed sexual organ that extends from its forehead called a tentaculum.

“They have this club on the top of their head with spikes. People think it’s used for mating,” Long said. “It’s like a little mace with little spikes and hooks and it fits into their forehead. It’s jointed and it comes out. We’re not sure if it is used to stimulate the female or hold the female closer.”

The species is yet another example of the tremendous, unknown biodiversity that still exists near heavily populated regions like the Los Angeles coastline. It was actually “discovered” long ago in the sense that museum specimens of the fish existed at Scripps Oceanographic Institute. But it wasn’t until a team of researchers from the Pacific Shark Research Center and the California Academy of Sciences came together to examine the odd creatures that they realized they were looking at something new.

Complete Story

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