Creature Feature: Giant Isopod

Giant isopod

Image ID: expl8141, Voyage To Inner Space – Exploring the Seas With NOAA Collect

Have you ever imagined what a pill bug or a roly poly would be like if it was a size of a baby? You probably haven’t because that’s a pretty weird thing to imagine!  Whether you have or not, you don’t have to stretch your imagination too far to know what it would be like.  That is because there is such an invertebrate known as the Giant Isopod, Bathynomus giganteus, and it grows up to 16 inches. Where will you find this large creature? You guessed it – the dark and mysterious deep sea!  They can survive in ocean depths ranging from 550-7000ft.

NOAA Ocean Explorer: Gulf of Mexico Expedition 2012

Credit: NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, Gulf of Mexico 2012 Expedition

Just like the terrestrial (that means “land-dwelling”) pill bug, isopods have armored bodies. When threatened, they will curl up into a ball and use their hardened back plates to protect their softer underside. This massive creature is a scavenger that feeds on anything that falls to the ocean floor.  It will even feed on slow-moving organisms if it can!  Due to the lack off food in the benthos (science-speak for “bottom”) of the deep, these isopods have adapted to go a long time without food.  In a protected environment like an aquarium, they’ve been known to go as long as 4 years without anything to eat!

They have compound eyes, like most insects. Compound eyes have hundreds or even thousands of light-sensitive parts. Each part helps to create a portion of a picture resulting in a mosaic image.  If you can imagine, it would be like watching one movie on hundreds of TV screens, piece by piece.  This helps the isopod see fast moving objects and have a larger field of vision. To help these invertebrates maneuver and find food in the vast darkness of the deep, they also have large antennae. 

Depending on your opinion of humongous bugs, you may think the Giant Isopod is anything from positively AWESOME to totally GUH-ROSS!  No matter what, there is no denying that they are fascinating creatures with an amazing ability to survive.  In fact, they are one of the oldest creatures alive today.  Fossil records indicate that Giant Isopods existed more than 160 million years ago, back before the supercontinent Pangea broke apart.  The Giant Isopod really is a big, old bug!  


Edited by KC O’Shea

Photo curtosy NOAA Digital Library


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