This Football-Sized Crustacean Is the Oceanic Cousin of Roly-Poly Bugs

Scientists discovered a new species of giant isopod that is the size of a literal football. This big crustacean lives on the ocean floor but is related to the pillbugs, also known as roly poly bugs, in your garden. They definitely look like something out of science fiction or even horror movies, but they’re real. The new species lives in the Gulf of Mexico and its scientific name is Bathynomus yucatanensis. The photo below shows the specimen is about 10 inches long, but they likely grow larger. Other giant isopod species can be get twice that long.

A new species of giant isopod, shown both on its back and belly with many legs and segments
Dr Ming-Chih Huang, Journal of Natural History

The team noticed some visible differences from other specimens, like the number of spines and a yellow color. But they also used DNA evidence in their conclusions. The peer-reviewed Journal of Natural History published the study, which we saw on Gizmodo

If seeing these many-legged crustaceans in action is on your bucket list, you’ve got some options. The video below shows them gnawing on an alligator carcass on the ocean floor. This was part of a science experiment to understand deep sea chemical signals, believe it or not. You can even see giant isopods in person at the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s deep sea exhibit

Scientists have described three other new species of giant isopods since 2016. It’s easy, even for scientists, to confuse small differences between animals. Re-examining specimens collected years or even centuries ago with improved technology often leads to the discovery of new species. This is how graduate student Kelsi Rutledge came to describe a new species of ray. She later went on to be the science consultant for Jordan Peele’s movie Nope. Another connection between ocean animals and horror films.

Melissa is Nerdist’s science & technology staff writer. She also moderates “science of” panels at conventions and co-hosts Star Warsologies, a podcast about science and Star Wars. Follow her on Twitter @melissatruth. 

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