What do you know about shrimp? Probably that they’re small sea creatures that are mostly good for eating with cocktail sauce. You probably can’t even really picture a shrimp in the water. And be thankful for that, because they are not the cute, delicious creatures you think they are. Researchers from England’s National Oceanography Centre have discovered a new kind of shrimp that hunts in swarms. These shrimp-like amphipods, each just 3 millimeters long, comb the oceans for dead sea creatures and strip carcasses clean.
The author of the new study, Tammy Horton, was investigating how human bodies are broken down in water. For the study, two pigs were left in the ocean, one caged to protect it from sharks and the other in the open water.
Sharks got the second pig, but it turned out the first suffered a grislier fate.
“Caging successfully prevented sharks from accessing the body so the carcass was colonized within minutes by small arthropods called amphipods, or ‘sea lice,’” says Horton in the description of the video, shot on Feb 26, 2012. “These rapidly became several centimeters thick on the body and entered the carcass via the orifices, eating it from the inside out. The amphipods became so numerous that they covered the entire cage and bars and competitively excluded all other arthropods.”
These amphipods usually don’t dine on pork. Whales, fish, and dead sea birds are the daily fare for these carrion eaters, but like any good scavenger, they take what they can get.
You may be thinking that this is a great way to dispose of a dead human body, and Horton would seem to agree. “In just a few days the carcass was entirely skeletonized and the amphipods lost interest and left,” she said of the experiment. But these flesh eating shrimp normally operate at depths of up to 4,500 meters, or around 2.8 miles below the surface, so you’d have to get the body down there first.
Or you could do the way Horton and her team did it and lower a mackerel-baited trap into the briny deep and bring it back up. The researchers estimate they caught around 40,000 amphipods with this trap, including members of the two newly discovered carnivorous species.
The new shrimp have been classified and named by Horton. One is called lemarete, which translates to “bold and excellent”–hardly the description I’d apply to these nightmarish creatures.