Share your love for Antarctica’s less popular creatures this Valentines

Valentine’s week is a great time to show your loved ones you care; a day to show the appreciation you feel but might not show or say the rest of the year. ASOC Executive Director Claire Christian points out that humans aren’t the only ones who need extra affection.

Antarctic animals, living far away in the Southern Ocean, are often forgotten. You might see pictures of penguins and seals, maybe even a whale or two, but no one hears about the creatures that make up over 90% of Antarctic species. I’m of course talking about Antarctic invertebrates. Who’s ever heard about Labidiaster annulatus, a sea star, or the glass sponge Rosella nuda? These creatures and others are every bit as fascinating as their feathered and furred friends.

This year, we want to show these creatures some love during Valentine’s week. Read on to find out why we think Antarctica’s invertebrates make great valentines.

When we prepared a list of our favorite Antarctic species last year, we made sure all kinds of Antarctic animals, from mammals to mollusks, were represented. To our surprise, some of the most interesting and wacky species weren’t penguins or even fish, but were the invertebrates – squid, crustaceans, corals, starfish.

Take Edwardsiella andrillae, a recently discovered sea anemone that not only lives upside down, but attaches itself to ice while doing so. Living in the icy cold Southern Ocean is extreme already. E. andrillae takes it to a whole new level.

Edwardsiella andrillae. Photo credit: Lisa Kelley

Another genus of sea anemones, Isosicyonis, lives on the back of Harpovoluta sea snails, getting a free ride its whole life. It’s unclear what benefits they get out of this arrangement. We like to think it’s because love is unconditional.

Isocicyonis striata and Isocicyonis alba. Photo credit: Lisa Kelley

Other Antarctic creatures defy convention as well. Labidiaster annulatus is a starfish with fifty or more arms, more than any other known starfish. It also is a more active predator than many starfish, and is able to catch and eat live krill as they swim by.

Labidiaster annulatus (sun star). Photo credit: Lisa Kelley.

Unlike starfish, colossal squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni) have a reputation for being fierce predators, based on their size and terrifying tentacles, which are covered with sharp hooks. Scientists have discovered that in fact, they are probably not very aggressive, and instead lurk in ocean depths waiting for prey to approach.

Possibly the most in need of some praise are Antarctic glass sponges. They look like ornamental vases from afar. Look closer, and you’ll see that all kinds of seafloor species, from sea spiders to brittle stars to even fish use these sponges for food, shelter, or just a place to hang out.

Hexactinellid (glass sponge). Photo credit: J Gutt.

The Antarctic and Southern Coalition (ASOC) and the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO), along with its Antarctic Ambassadors program, are teaming up to show Antarctic invertebrates love throughout this Valentine’s week. To meet more of Antarctica’s invertebrate species, follow #LoveAntarcticInvertebrates on facebook, twitter or instagram.