Giant isopods feed on an alligator carcass at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.(LUMCON)
Louisiana scientists reached new depths in their research in February when they sent three dead alligators plummeting to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.
Researchers with the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON) used the carcasses to “examine the role of alligators in biodiversity and carbon cycling in the deep oceans,” Craig McClain, a researcher with LUMCON who worked on the experiment, wrote in a blog post. Apparently, food 2,000 meters below the gulf’s surface can be hard to come by.
A video captured of the event shows multiple giant isopods (scientifically known as Bathynomus giganteus) feeding on at least one of the carcasses. The pink, football-sized creatures (which are basically giant pill bugs, perSciencealert) took roughly a day to find the food, soon swarming the gator hoping to get their taste, as the scavengers can sometimes go multiple years without food, according to the Aquarium of the Pacific.
“I was surprised there were already giant isopods all over it,” the researchers say in the video. “I thought it would take a while for them to get the chemical cues that would allow them to sort of locate a food fall like an alligator.”
The research, the team explained on Youtube alongside their video, will help scientists learn more about “deep-sea food webs, ancient food webs (because maybe some species eating the gators ate now-extinct reptiles like mosasaurs)” and, lastly, “how materials created on land sustain and impact ocean food webs.”
The team also chose to use alligator carcasses as “prior work as focused primarily on whales and other cetaceans, pinnipeds, large fish such as tuna, and elasmobranchs. However, it’s very likely that marine reptiles both currently, and even prehistorically, are an important source of carbon in the deep oceans,” McClain wrote. “Before the existence of whales, perhaps large marine reptiles like ichthyosaurs, mosasaurs, and plesiosaurs hosted diverse and endemic invertebrate communities on sunken carcasses, similar to modern-day whale falls and contributed significantly to the deep-sea carbon budget.”
According to Sciencealert, smaller organisms likely took to the carcass after the giant isopods had their share.