Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Pyrosoma atlanticum. - Cyprus

Pyrosoma atlanticum is a pelagic species of marine colonial tunicate in the class Thaliacea found in temperate waters worldwide. The name of the genus comes from the Greek words pyros meaning 'fire' and soma meaning 'body', referring to the bright bioluminescence sometimes emitted. The specific epithet atlanticum refers to the Atlantic Ocean, from where the first specimen of the species was collected for scientific description; it was described in 1804 by François Péron, a French naturalist.
A colony of P. atlanticum is cylindrical and can grow up to 60 cm (2 ft) long and 4–6 cm wide. The constituent zooids form a rigid tube, which may be pale pink, yellowish, or bluish. One end of the tube is narrower and is closed, while the other is open and has a strong diaphragm. The outer surface or test is gelatinised and dimpled with backward-pointing, blunt processes. The individual zooids are up to 8.5 mm (0.3 in) long and have a broad, rounded branchial sac with gill slits. Along the side of the branchial sac runs the endostyle, which produces mucus filters. Water is moved through the gill slits into the centre of the cylinder by cilia pulsating rhythmically. Plankton and other food particles are caught in mucus filters in the processes as the colony is propelled through the water. P. atlanticum is bioluminescent and can generate a brilliant blue-green light when stimulated.

P. atlanticum is found in temperate waters in all the world's oceans, usually between 50°N and 50°S. It is most plentiful at depths below 250 m (800 ft).[4] Colonies are pelagic and move through the water column. They undergo a large diurnal migration, rising toward the surface in the evening and descending around dawn. Large colonies may rise through a vertical distance of 760 m (2,500 ft) daily, and even small colonies a few millimetres long can cover vertical distances of 90 m (300 ft)

A study in the Indian Ocean comparing different zooplankton organisms found that colonies of P. atlanticum were the most efficient grazers of particles above 10 µm in diameter, catching a higher proportion of the particles than other grazers. This implies the species uses high biomass intake as a strategy, rather than investing in energy-conservation mechanisms.

Growth occurs by new rings of zooids being budded off around the edge of the elongating colony. A pair of luminescent organs is on either side of the inlet siphon of each zooid. When stimulated, these turn on and off, causing rhythmic flashing. No neural pathway runs between the zooids, but each responds to the light produced by other individuals, and even by light from other nearby colonies

Pyrosomes, genus Pyrosoma, are free-floating colonial tunicates that live usually in the upper layers of the open ocean in warm seas, although some may be found at greater depths. Pyrosomes are cylindrical or cone-shaped colonies made up of hundreds to thousands of individuals, known as zooids. Colonies range in size from less than one centimeter to several metres in length. They are commonly called "sea pickles.

Each zooid is a few millimetres in size, but is embedded in a common gelatinous tunic that joins all of the individuals. Each zooid opens both to the inside and outside of the "tube", drawing in ocean water from the outside to its internal filtering mesh called the branchial basket, extracting the microscopic plant cells on which it feeds, and then expelling the filtered water to the inside of the cylinder of the colony. The colony is bumpy on the outside, each bump representing a single zooid, but nearly smooth, though perforated with holes for each zooid, on the inside.

Pyrosomes are planktonic, which means their movements are largely controlled by currents, tides, and waves in the oceans. On a smaller scale, however, each colony can move itself slowly by the process of jet propulsion, created by the coordinated beating of cilia in the branchial baskets of all the zooids, which also create feeding currents.

Pyrosomes are brightly bioluminescent, flashing a pale blue-green light that can be seen for many tens of metres. The name Pyrosoma comes from the Greek (pyro = "fire", soma = "body"). Pyrosomes are closely related to salps, and are sometimes called "fire salps". Sailors on the ocean occasionally observe calm seas containing many pyrosomes, all luminescing on a dark night.

Although many planktonic organisms are bioluminescent, pyrosome bioluminescence is unusual in its brilliance and sustained light emission,[3] and evoked the following comment when seen by scientist T.H. Huxley at sea:
"I have just watched the moon set in all her glory, and looked at those lesser moons, the beautiful Pyrosoma, shining like white-hot cylinders in the water" (T.H. Huxley, 1849)
Pyrosomes often exhibit waves of light passing back and forth through the colony, as each individual zooid detects light and then emits light in response. Each zooid contains a pair of light organs located near the outside surface of the tunic, which are packed with luminescent organelles that may be intracellular bioluminescent bacteria. The waves of bioluminescence that move within a colony are apparently not propagated by neurons, but by a photic stimulation process. Flashing zooids not only stimulate other zooids within the colony to bioluminesce, but nearby colonies will also display bioluminescence in response. Colonies will bioluminesce in response to mechanical stimulation (touch), as well as to light
In 2017, pyrosomes were observed to have spread in unprecedented numbers along the Pacific coast of North America as far north as Alaska. The causes remain unknown, but one hypothesis is that this bloom may have resulted in part from unusually warm water along the coast over several preceding years. Scientists were concerned that should there be a massive die-off of the pyrosomes, it could create a huge dead zone as the decomposition of their bodies consumed much of the oxygen dissolved in the surrounding seawater
From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyrosome

Photos by Costas Constantinou

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