Sea-bound Scav­engers

For­get the thrill of the hunt — these crea­tures have adapted to get their meals in fas­ci­nat­ing ways

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Spi­der Crabs

These deep dwellers have adapted to a no­madic life­style. Spi­der crabs can sur­vive long pe­ri­ods with­out eat­ing while wait­ing for the next food fall — a dead an­i­mal that de­scends from the sur­face. These crabs have poor eye­sight, but sci­en­tists believe that bac­te­ria col­lect­ing at food falls give off light that is de­tectable by the crabs. And when they’re walk­ing along the bar­ren ocean floor, they use sen­si­tive or­gans at the end of their legs to lo­cate food in the mud.

Great White Sharks

It may sur­prise some to learn that these preda­tors also en­joy easy tar­gets. Re­searchers found great whites off the coast of South Africa calmly feed­ing on the same whale car­cass, a de­par­ture from the fren­zied hunt­ing we typ­i­cally see when they at­tack liv­ing prey. Re­searchers stated in a 2013 re­port that the sharks as­sess the value of their bites, as they would some­times re­gur­gi­tate “one bite to make room for a sec­ond, more calor­i­cally rich morsel.”

Osedax Worms

Dubbed “zom­bie worms,” these poly­chaetes of the genus Osedax were dis­cov­ered liv­ing in the bones of a gray whale car­cass, 10,000 feet deep. They have no eyes, mouth or stom­ach but are able to eat by se­cret­ing an acid through their skin that al­lows them to dis­solve the bones of dead an­i­mals and un­lock the fats and pro­teins in­side. Sci­en­tists found signs of these in­ven­tive eaters in the fos­sils of rep­tiles, trac­ing their ex­is­tence back about 125 mil­lion years.

Re­moras, which can grow to be 2 feet in length, are known for their sym­bi­otic be­hav­ior — they at­tach them­selves to sharks and other large ma­rine an­i­mals via a suck­er­like disk on top of the head. Sharks ben­e­fit from the hitch­hik­ers when the remora fish eat par­a­sites on the preda­tors’ bod­ies, keep­ing them clean and healthy. But re­moras also do their share of scav­eng­ing. When sharks make a kill, the remora fish cap­i­tal­ize by help­ing them­selves to the left­overs.

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