Weird Wednesdays: Living on a Praya dubia

 An illustration of the creepy creatures. ( Alzinous /Wikimedia Creative Commons)

An illustration of the creepy creatures. (Alzinous/Wikimedia Creative Commons)

Today we return to a treasured Weird Wednesdays tradition: learning about horrifying creatures from the bottom of the sea that will most likely give you nightmares for the rest of your life. This week, we’re gonna talk about Praya dubia!

This sinew-y, glowy, flowy creature of the deep looks like a cross between a jellyfish, an eel and an H.P. Lovecraft daydream. Also known as a Giant Siphonophore, these strange beasties spend their days drifting around at the bottom of the ocean, about 3,000 feet below sea level in the Pacific and Atlantic. Its entire structure is hydrostatic, meaning it is supported by water, so if it is removed from its high-pressure habitat, it bursts like a Dollar Store water balloon.

Praya dubia, Latin for “dubious prayer,” can reach over 150 feet long, which is longer than a blue whale. It is made up of a bell-like head, called a pneumatophore, and a long, extended body piece with hundreds of tendrils extending from it. It uses this body piece to feed, its tentacles excreting a toxic venom that paralyzes its prey (which includes small fish and crustaceans) after luring them in with its eerie, blue bioluminescence.

All of these are separate creatures, by the way. That’s right: this revolting sea-worm is the marine equivalent of two kids in a trench coat. How does it do this?

There’s a thing in nature known as a symbiotic relationship. It’s when one or more organisms mutually benefit each other in the way they live and exist. A clownfish, for example, has a symbiotic relationship with sea anemone. The clownfish keeps the anemone clean, and the anemone provides shelter and protection to the clownfish.

While both creatures in a symbiosis can live on their own, they each have a better chance of survival if they hang out together. In fact, some symbioses are so beneficial that each creature becomes almost entirely dependent on the other. For example, leaf cutter ants that farm a type of fungus for food would quickly die off without the fungi, and vice versa.

The most interwoven of these relationships are known as colonial animals. At the surface level, they look like one organism, but upon closer examination, they are actually separate creatures that band together and help each other out. A common example is the Portuguese Man O’War, whose floating bell, digestive system and stinging units are all different types of polyp.

Being a colonial animal is weird. Though the total goal of the organism group is to survive, different bits of the body can want, and decide on, very different things. In this case, the dubia’s floating bell more or less decides where the creature will go while the back ends of the unit will determine what the creature eats. The stinging units help paralyze and digest prey. Each one of these creatures are their own, independent entity.

Even freakier? Siphonophores can actually rearrange their body as needed, such as when they get snagged or trapped, (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iXDH23kIuhk) like some sort of horrible, biological Japanese mecha.

Its reproduction is even weirder. Siphonophore reproduction is kinda-sorta like standard sexual reproduction, in that the female units in the creature produce gametes which are fertilized by male units from a separate creature. These eggs will divide into the body of the organism, and the other parts (the stinging cells, the bell and so on) bud off asexually from the main body. While they share the same DNA, they can act as a separate unit. (https://io9.gizmodo.com/how-does-a-creature-reproduce-when-its-four-separate-cr-1712557478)

Think of it like a beehive. One bee can operate on her own. She has her own nervous system and ability to move independently. However, she cannot survive without the support of her fellow bees, and a colony cannot reproduce without her — or a queen. A hive, therefore, can be considered a colonial animal.

If it still doesn’t make sense, don’t worry. Few things at the bottom of the sea make sense. Just rest easy knowing that, in your lifetime, you’ll probably never encounter it. It can’t live outside of the water in any case. If, however, you take up deep-sea diving and run into a glowy ribbon floating around, stop by, give them a smile and take a group photo. And, above all, stay weird.


Marlese Lessing is the news editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at marlese.lessing@uconn.edu. She tweets @marlese_lessing.