Hello from Antarctica! Now that we are finished with science and starting to head home, many of us are reflecting on the past month we’ve spent in the Antarctic. I’ve had an amazing experience that I’ve learned so much from. While I did not come here with a specific organism I was researching, I’ve gotten to learn a lot while working hands-on with marine life and working alongside many amazing marine scientists.
One species I spent a lot of time with was Ophionotus victoriae, a type of brittle star that is common in the Antarctic. This brittle star tends to be on the bigger side, with a large central disk and five skinny, flexible arms attached. Ophionotus victoriaes are beautiful brittle stars who are usually bright pink with dark blue stripes coming from the center, but they vary in color in shade (see photos below).
While they’re endemic to Antarctic waters, we have found that Ophionotus victoriae are much more abundant in the western side of the Antarctic than they are the in the eastern side. Like other brittle stars, Ophionotus victoriae live on the ocean floor, and they can be found over 1,000 meters deep. Similarly to many animals in Antarctica, they have a slow growth rate and long life span, up to about 20 years.
These brittle stars are opportunistic eaters, who mainly scavenge for food but will also eat younger brittle stars. Consequently, young brittle stars are prey to bigger brittle stars as well as fish, so they have a few mechanisms to defend themselves. One mechanism that I got to see in the lab is that if necessary, brittle stars will break off their arms to escape predators. They are also agile enough to scurry away and hide themselves under sediment when they are in trouble.
Working with various brittle stars and many other Antarctic invertebrates for the past month has been such a pleasure. There is no better way to learn about these animals, so although I’m sad my time here is ending I’m so happy to have had this experience and the knowledge I gained from it.
Central Michigan University