Squat Lobster Proved to Eat Wood

Similar species are also scavengers

By on January 4th, 2010 07:41 GMT
One of the lobster's more distant relatives, the squat lobster, is known for its ability to consume a wide range of seemingly uneatable foods. Seeing how these animals live at the bottom of the oceans, they cannot really afford to be picky, if they want to survive. But some of these species have taken their diets to extreme levels, giving new meaning to the tale of also eating the table along with the food on it. For these creatures, it may be that the wood they consume is their primary source of food, marine biologists now say.

One of the main reasons for this is the fact that, in the places where squat lobsters live, the food supply is very low, and the menu fairly short. So, evolutionary biologists hypothesize, they needed to adapt to their environment, and have learned to consume food that no other animals look for. Experts add that the crustaceans, which are scientifically known under the name of Munidopsis andamanica, are related to real lobsters, but are not actually that. In addition, they say, this is the first of the 850 squat lobster species demonstrated to feed on wood. All other species are also known for being general scavengers.

In a new scientific paper, published in the latest issue of the respected scientific journal Marine Biology, scientists from the University of Liege, in Belgium, say that M. andamanica can be found in abundance on sunken logs. All wood that washes into the ocean eventually sinks, carrying with it many nutrients. Though irregular, these instances in which the logs sink create viable ecosystems underwater. Such ecosystems were the targets of a new investigation, led by UL graduate student Caroline Hoyoux and her advisor, Philippe Compere. The science team collected wood logs from depths of up to 3,000 feet, or roughly 920 meters.

The investigation uncovered large numbers of animals living on the logs, including M. andamanica, some bivalves, limpets, and other crustaceans. In addition, many species of bacterias and microbes were also found. Preliminary pieces of evidence seem to indicate that some bacteria actually help this one species of squat lobsters digest wood debris. Inside the crustaceans' stomachs, the team identified shards of wood, which appeared to have been eaten on purpose. Of the bacteria identified in the lobster-like crustaceans, some were grazed off while the animals fed, whereas some were proven to be indigenous to their stomachs. The second group appeared to facilitate the assimilation of wood nutrients.

Adapted from materials provided by the Natural History Magazine, via LiveScience.

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