Scientists Discover a Tiny Monster in Canada's Arctic Ice

By Ryan F. Mandelbaum on at

No one said that monsters needed to be big or even scary. But when James Dwight Dana first spotted one strange plankton species back in the 19th century, he knew he had something weird on his hands. “Little monster,” Monstrilla seemed like as good a name as any. After all, scientists can name species after pretty much anything, even penises.

A 2014 expedition to the Arctic revealed a whole new species of these little monsters hanging out beneath the ice. The researchers named it Monstrillopsis planifrons, essentially “little monster with a flat head.” Research like this shows just how much more there is to learn about the vast Arctic.

“As a result, local and regional [species] lists are expected to grow as the exploration of under-sampled regions continues,” first author Aurélie Delaforge writes in the paper, published this week in the journal ZooKeys.

Why should you be excited about plankton? Well, they’re the bottom of the food chain. Maybe you think that makes them unimportant...or they’re the most important animals in the ocean. You probably don’t think much about the individual kinds of plankton, though.

M. planifrons is a strange looking miniature crustacean, only a few millimeters long, like a one-eyed eight hairy legged-frilly shrimp with furry antennae. It’s got an extra set of rear legs that look like otter feet and weird-looking genitals. Like a monster.

Delaforge’s discovery was lucky, according to a University of Manitoba press release—these creatures are only free-floating adults during May and June—otherwise they’re either larvae or parasites on clams.

Anyway, there are monsters everywhere, even in the Canadian arctic. Don’t get too spooked, now. [ZooKeys via UManitoba]