The Electronic Telegraph Thursday 14 December 1995 Home News
New life from the mouths of lobsters
By Roger Highfield, Science Editor
A TINY sac-shaped creature unlike anything else known to scientists has been found clinging to the lips of the Norway lobster.
The discovery of the bizarre parasite is hailed today as the "zoological highlight of the decade" by Dr Simon Conway Morris of Cambridge University.
Symbion pandora is striking because it marks the discovery of a new phylum, a major taxonomic division, which means its basic body plan is fundamentally different from anything so far discovered.
Although estimates range from between 30 million and 100 million species on the planet, there are only around 35 phyla.
"In this century, a new phylum has only been discovered three times," said Peter Funch, who with Dr Reinhard Kristensen of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark provides the first description of the creature in today's issue of Nature.
The phylum is called Cycliophora, "ringed creature", after its unique feeding organ - a funnel coated with fine fronds that can steal food particles from the mouth of its host lobster, to which it clings with a sucker.
Scientists say it is remarkable that the creature was found "on our doorstep", rather than in a remote mountain range or deep in ocean sludge.
"Next time you are at a restaurant, make sure the waiter has a couple of zoology books and a microscope, said Dr Conway Morris. "Who knows what might be lurking under the lettuce?"
The lobster "lips" referred to in this clipping refer to the mouthparts of the lobster, which include various mandibles and maxillipeds used for food manipulation and maceration.