Animals & Wildlife Magazine

Unusual Find at the Base of the Ross Ice Shelf

By Frontiergap @FrontierGap

Within ice, where the risk of freezing is considerable, no animal is expected to survive. However, one species of sea anemone proves to be the exception, having recently been found in large numbers within the Ross Ice Shelf.

Unusual find at the base of the Ross Ice Shelf
Image courtesy of Alan R. Light

What was originally just a geological study as part of the multinational Antarctic geological DRILLing programme (ANDRILL), soon turned into something more. Frank Rack (University of Nebraska-Lincoln) and colleagues were exploring the base of the Ross Ice Shelf using a camera attached to the end of a drill (Submersible Capable of under-Ice Navigation and Imaging or SCINI) when they noticed swathes of dangling tentacles beneath the ice.

These belonged to the now named Edwardsiella andrillae, a sea anemone. Edwardsiids are known to burrow into soft sediment and into the skeletons of dead coral, but have never been observed burrowing into something as hard as ice. It is speculated that E. andrillae secretes chemicals which dissolve the ice to acquire entry.

When Marymegan Daly of Ohio State University dissected them, she was surprised that their habitat was so unique. “I would never have guessed that they live embedded in the ice because there is nothing different about their anatomy”. Perhaps then, the secret behind their life cycle lies in their molecular and cellular physiology. To avoid freezing in sub-zero conditions, many invertebrates have developed a suite of strategies, including the production of antifreeze proteins, the removal of ice nucleating agents, and the accumulation of polyhydric alcohols and sugars, which help stabilise their supercooled (or unfrozen) condition. The anemone at the base of the Ross Ice Shelf may also harbor similar adaptations.

By Matthew Everatt

Find out more about Frontier's marine conservation projects.

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