The Giant Isopod

The Giant Isopod

The Giant isopods are found in most oceans of the world. The Giant Isopod is the largest member of the isopod family, a group of crustaceans closely related to shrimps and crabs.   It is carnivorous and is a valuable scavenger, eating from the deep sea floor whatever falls from above, including  bodies of whales, fish, and squid. It may also feed on slow-moving sea cucumbers and sponges.  Food is scarce in the deep ocean, and they are adapted to long periods of famine, and will gorge when food is plentiful.

A giant isopod in Japan has refused to eat for more than four years. This specimen was caught during a NOAA expedition in the Gulf of Mexico by Bob Carney of LSU.
A giant isopod in Japan has refused to eat for more than four years. This specimen was caught during a NOAA expedition in the Gulf of Mexico by Bob Carney of LSU.

Their habitat ranges in depth from  550 feet to 7000 feet, living solitary lives on mud or clay ocean bottoms. Their huge size is a caused by deep sea gigantism, where deep ocean creatures grow to a much larger size than their shallow water counterparts, believed to help deal with the enormous pressures at deep sea floors. The giant isopod can grow to a length of over 16 inches, and has a hard shell that is divided into segments which makes it both strong and flexible – it can roll into a ball to protect its soft underside, similar to pill bugs found on land. The giant isopod has compound eyes, with over 4,000 individual facets, and large antennae to help it find its prey in the dark reaches of the ocean. It has a complex mouth with many components to help it catch and shred its food.

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Giant isopods reproduce by laying eggs. Mature females develop a pouch known as a marsupium, where the eggs are stored until the young are ready to emerge as miniatures of the adults, known as manca, completing bypassing a larval stage. Giant isopods are not usually fished commercially, although some can be found in the occasional oceanside restaurant in northern Taiwan, where they are boiled and served with rice. – Seapics