Stargazer Mysidopsis zsilaveczi
November 24, 2014

Stargazer Shrimp Discovered In South African Waters

Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

A newly-discovered species of shrimp living in South African waters has been dubbed the Stargazer Mysid due to the way its large, candy-striped eyes appear to gaze permanently upward, researchers from the University of Cape Town (UCT) announced recently.

Even though the 10- to 15-millimeter long crustacean appears to have a devoted interest in astronomy, the university explained that the phenomenon is simply a trick of nature, as the eyes of shrimps lack pupils and irises. Instead, the creatures have compound eyes comprised of several simple elements, each of which look in different directions.

The colorful patterns on its eyes are believed to give the appearance that they belong to a much larger creature, thus scaring off predators, UCT researchers noted. The creature’s official name is Mysidopsis zsilaveczi in honor of Guido Zsilavecz, the underwater photographer who first discovered the creature at False Bay in southwest South Africa.

“The university's senior marine biologist, Charles Griffiths, could not identify the species when Zsilavecz brought it to him and so samples were sent to an expert in Vienna,” Reuters reporter Helen Nyambura-Mwaura wrote in a Friday article. “Zsilavecz also recently found a new type of nudibranch, a soft-bodied sea slug, around Cape Town.”

Griffiths said that he was surprised by the vivid coloring of the shrimp, as well as its “fake eyes,” which he compared to “the eye spots on moths' wings.” He and Wittmann describe the new Mysidopsis species – the ninth creature of its kind to be discovered in Southern Africa – in the journal Crustaceana.

Zsilavecz, a computer scientist and co-founder of the Southern Underwater Research Group (SURG), explained that he has long been interested in aquatic life and purchased an underwater camera in order to record his experiences in pictures. He has contributed to marine guidebooks and had previously helped identify other new species.

The discovery of Mysidopsis zsilaveczi “confirms that the coastal waters of this subcontinent are one of the biodiversity hotspots in this genus,” Griffiths said, adding that “some 30 new marine species are found in South African waters annually.” In this case, however, there was an interesting footnote to the discovery.

According to the university, once Wittmann realized this was a new species of shrimp, he found that he only had males among the first several samples sent to him. He asked Griffiths and Zsilavecz to find and send him female stargazer mysids. They collected eight additional specimens which looked different, assuming they were females.

However, when Wittmann examined the first two vials, he found not female stargazer mysids, but two additional new species of shrimp – and UCT said that the unopened vials could have even more new types of crustaceans.

“These can form the topic of another paper next year, but we wanted to get the description of this first species published in the interim,” Griffiths told UCT's Helen Swingler. “It's amazing that we're still finding so many new species in heavily dived waters like False Bay, right on our doorstep”

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