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Massive ‘Darth Vader’ isopod found lurking in the Indian Ocean

The father of all giant sea bugs was recently discovered off the coast of Java.

SJADE 2018

A close up of Bathynomus raksasa

Key Takeaways
  • A new species of isopod with a resemblance to a certain Sith lord was just discovered.
  • It is the first known giant isopod from the Indian Ocean.
  • The finding extends the list of giant isopods even further.

Humanity knows surprisingly little about the ocean depths. An often-repeated bit of evidence for this is the fact that humanity has done a better job mapping the surface of Mars than the bottom of the sea. The creatures we find lurking in the watery abyss often surprise even the most dedicated researchers with their unique features and bizarre behavior.

A recent expedition off the coast of Java discovered a new isopod species remarkable for its size and resemblance to Darth Vader.

Bathynomus raksasa specimen (left) next to a closely related supergiant isopod, B. giganteus (right)Sidabalok CM, Wong HP-S, Ng PKL (ZooKeys 2020)

According to LiveScience, the Bathynomus genus is sometimes referred to as “Darth Vader of the Seas” because the crustaceans are shaped like the character’s menacing helmet. Deemed Bathynomus raksasa (“raksasa” meaning “giant” in Indonesian), this cockroach-like creature can grow to over 30 cm (12 inches). It is one of several known species of giant ocean-going isopod. Like the other members of its order, it has compound eyes, seven body segments, two pairs of antennae, and four sets of jaws.

The incredible size of this species is likely a result of deep-sea gigantism. This is the tendency for creatures that inhabit deeper parts of the ocean to be much larger than closely related species that live in shallower waters. B. raksasa appears to make its home between 950 and 1,260 meters (3,117 and 4,134 ft) below sea level.

Perhaps fittingly for a creature so creepy looking, that is the lower sections of what is commonly called The Twilight Zone, named for the lack of light available at such depths.

It isn’t the only giant isopod, far from it. Other species of ocean-going isopod can get up to 50 cm long (20 inches) and also look like they came out of a nightmare. These are the unusual ones, though. Most of the time, isopods stay at much more reasonable sizes.

The discovery of this new species was published in ZooKeys. The remainder of the specimens from the trip are still being analyzed. The full report will be published shortly.

Why the ocean you know and love won’t exist in 50 years

The discovery of a new species is always a cause for celebration in zoology. That this is the discovery of an animal that inhabits the deeps of the sea, one of the least explored areas humans can get to, is the icing on the cake.

Helen Wong of the National University of Singapore, who co-authored the species’ description, explained the importance of the discovery:

“The identification of this new species is an indication of just how little we know about the oceans. There is certainly more for us to explore in terms of biodiversity in the deep sea of our region.”

The animal’s visual similarity to Darth Vader is a result of its compound eyes and the curious shape of its head. However, given the location of its discovery, the bottom of the remote seas, it may be associated with all manner of horrifically evil Elder Things and Great Old Ones.


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