Aliens vs. Predators: The Oceanic Nomads

Ever wonder where a little bit of inspiration comes from for some of the creatures in Hollywood’s top blockbuster? Do these look at all familiar to you?

Phronima-1Daphnia_Michels

Photos from: http://astronauta.cat/wp-content/uploads/Phronima-1.jpg

                      http://www.unh.edu/news/cj_nr/2011/feb/Daphnia_Michels.jpg

It’s rumored that the creature on the left, Phronima, was the inspiration for the Xenomorphs in the 1979 movie, Aliens. However, you don’t need to travel across the galaxy to find these little critters. You need to look no further than the oceans in your own backyard. Though, there’s no need to fear. These tiny aliens won’t burst out of your chest. Well, not out of a human’s chest, anyways.

Check out this cool link, if you have the stomach for seeing what I mean: http://marinebio.org/oceans/zooplankton/

These aren’t at all like the terrifying monsters you see in the movies though. They are some of the most incredibly interesting animals you may have never even knew existed before, like this tiny Bosmina.

Bosmina

Photo from: http://www.photomacrography.net/forum/userpix/101_Bosmina_1.jpg

They are known as zooplankton, which in Greek means animal-drifter. Because they are so tiny, zooplankton “drift” in the currents of the ocean as adults or larval stages, which can travel great distances and settle in new locations, like crabs and barnacles. But once they settle and mature, they are no longer considered zooplankton.

naplii

Photo from: http://www.saburchill.com/hfns02/chapters/chap016.html

Many species of zooplankton are also capable of swimming in whichever direction they please. They are even able to migrate vertically in the water on daily cycles. They may swim to great depths to avoid predators that hunt them during the day or night or they may just move to a depth where the can find more food sources, like tiny microscopic algae or other, smaller zooplankton.

You might not think it, but zooplankton are some of the most important organisms in the ocean. Most of the large oceanic animals, like whales, fish and sea lions, wouldn’t exist without them because large animals can’t get enough food to fulfill there nutrient and energy requirements on microscopic algae alone. They need larger animals to prey on to continue living. This is where the zooplankton come in. Zooplankton can feast on the tiny algae, which are the primary energy producers of all marine ecosystems. This then allows larger zooplankton, small fish or other animals to eat the smaller zooplankton, so they themselves can grow bigger. Then, the larger animals you love have something to eat to fulfill their energy requirements for growth and reproduction. Therefore, zooplankton are key links in transferring energy throughout a healthy ecosystems food chain.

arctic_marine_food_web_90

Photo from: http://oceanworld.tamu.edu/students/forams/forams_marine_food_web.htm

As you can see zooplankton are amazing and important creatures and I hope you’ve come to appreciate them, like I do. For more information on these and other fascinating zooplankton check out:   http://www.whoi.edu/main/topic/jellyfish-zooplankton

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