Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

11 Polar Sea Extremophiles

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

The cold doesn't agree with everyone. Humans are largely specialized to live in a temperate environment, and even then, we need clothes to keep us warm.

For some species, though, the cold is their forte, and many are so adapted that to take them out of their chilly environment would be torture. Beyond even those species are creatures so dependent upon the cold, so specialized to the most frigid, high-pressure places on earth, that you'd hardly even recognize them as being from this planet.

1. Antarctic krill

Wikimedia Commons

At first glance these tiny crustaceans, which form the bulk of the diet for many larger animals in the region, appear to be much the same as krill found anywhere else in the world. But these tiny animals (under two grams each—the same weight as roughly 10 grains of rice) are able to mass together in such huge quantities (over 500,000,000 tonnes—twice that of every human in the world) that their daily migrations to and from the surface actually change the currents in the water. They sink carbon from the atmosphere into the depths of the sea, and in some way or another, provide nutrients for nearly every single sea-dwelling creature around Antarctica.

2. Antarctic Salps

Larry Madin/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

If the Antarctic krill had an arch-enemy that they didn’t even know they were fighting, it would be the salps. Salps are colonial tunicates that look like tiny jellyfish, but are actually much more closely related to vertebrates. While krill are responsive to extreme blooms in phytoplankton (their food source), salps can reproduce far more quickly, and can bud off in less than a tenth of the time that it takes for krill to procreate. The little barrel-shaped tunicates expend very little energy moving (unlike krill), and can spend that saved energy reproducing. Salps can strip a phytoplankton bloom before krill even have a chance to reach their second generation, and their slimy little bodies can clog the zooplankton schools. Where krill are nutritionally dense, salps can be up to 97 percent water, provide nearly no nutrients, and when they’re the predominant zooplankton in an area, zooplankton-dependent species leave or die out. Once considered relatively uncommon in the Southern Ocean, their rising presence threatens many fish and bird species who rely upon krill for their food.

3. Bowhead Whale

On the other side of the world, the massive bowhead whales make their way around the Arctic, filtering the ocean for some of the tiniest animals out there: copepods. Unlike their cousins the rorquals (including the blue whale and the fin whale), bowhead whales do not feed by gulping prey-laden water and then expelling it, catching food on the plates as the water is ejected. Instead, they swim through shoals of the smallest zooplankton, mouths open wide, continuously filtering the water as they move forward. This behavior is much more similar to the basking shark than to most baleen whales. Bowheads have the thickest blubber of any animal—up to 20 inches thick—so that they can weather the frigid Arctic seas. The cold waters slow the bowhead whales to the point that their life is extended, possibly up to 250 years—though due to extensive whaling in the last two centuries, it is difficult to prove this extreme lifespan.

4. Narwhal

One of the truly unique Arctic animals is the narwhal. A member of the toothed whale family, narwhals are actually nearly toothless. Its “horn” is actually an extremely overgrown left canine tooth, present only in males. This tusk was passed off for centuries as a unicorn horn, and Vikings who were lucky enough to find or harvest one could sell them for many times their weight in gold. Today we know that their tooth is highly-innervated and in addition to being a secondary sex characteristic (as it seems to be used in courting and is only found in the male), it is also hypothesized to be used to stir up sediment on the seafloor, unearthing their flatfish prey. Because of their toothlessness, these whales consume the bottom-dwelling fish by sucking them into their mouths.

5. Greenland Shark

A deep-sea neighbor of the narwhal, Greenland sharks are a member of the “sleeper shark” family—and the family name fits them well. Slow moving, slow living, and slow breathing, these sharks can still, slowly, end up reaching the size of a great white (21 feet long, and weighing over a ton).

Because of the extreme depths of their environment (up to 7200 feet below the surface) and the cold, ice-packed waters that they live in, information on live Greenland sharks is hard to come by. One thing we do know is that while they’re an apex predator of their habitat, they’re also big consumers of carrion. Specimens that have been caught have had horses, polar bears, and entire reindeer in their stomachs, and given their top movement speed of 1.6 mph (well, that and the fact that horses and reindeer aren’t exactly Arctic water swimmers), it’s unlikely that they killed any of those animals.

Greenland sharks are extreme survivors, despite their slow, dark lives. It’s thought that they can reach over 200 years of age. Despite the fact that their flesh is toxic due to compounds produced to compensate for the frigid depths of the sea, people still eat it. After aging it for several months to destroy the neurotoxins (but not the ammonia compounds), hákarl is considered a delicacy in Iceland, though many of the younger generation no longer consume it.

6. Giant Scale Worms

Smithsonian Institution

One species of giant Antarctic scale worm (Eulagisca gigantea, above) made the “nightmare fuel” internet rounds last year, often cited as a new species (they’ve been known since the 1920s), but mostly gawked at for their comparatively large mouths. Maybe the fear was how they evert their pharynx (the top of their throat) to expose their chompers?

No matter how much the internet hates them, Antarctic scale worms are extreme survivors, eating any food in front of them, from detritus and carrion to other invertebrates and small fish. Scale worms exist around the world, but only the Antarctic species become “giants.” You probably wouldn’t want to touch the tiny ones any more than the giants, though. Just like most caterpillars with “fur” or bristles, the bristles of the scale worms are usually very irritating to the skin.

7. Antarctic toothfish

Wikimedia Commons

A relative of the Patagonian toothfish (otherwise known as “Chilean sea bass” for marketing purposes), the Antarctic toothfish lives in deeper, colder water than its cousin. At over six feet long and 250 lbs when fully grown, the Antarctic toothfish is more than twice as large as any other fish found in the Southern Ocean. The adults of this species eat any smaller fish that they come across, regardless of species, and they will cannibalize their own young if they’re within range. Unlike the Patagonian toothfish, which is otherwise extremely similar to the Antarctic, these guys have antifreeze glycoproteins in their blood, meaning that they can survive and thrive in the coldest water on earth. These fish are some of the most important food sources for the giants of Antarctica - colossal squid and sperm whales are especially dependent upon the huge adults of this species.

8. Antarctic proboscis worm

Wikimedia Commons

Did someone forget their intestines during a dive? Oh, nevermind, that’s just the Antarctic proboscis worm. Proboscis (or ribbon) worms are found throughout the land and sea, and are generally less than 8 inches long. Antarctic proboscis worms, on the other hand, can be up to 7 feet in length. Despite this, they're very lightweight, not known to reach above 5 ounces (less than many cell phones). They have a tiny, pressure-loaded “dagger” proboscis at the front of their head, which is barbed and sticky. They use this to capture their prey, though they also eat a significant amount of carrion. Because their bodies are rather acidic (with a pH of just 3.5—around that of red wine or lemonade), and they’re mostly slime with not much substance, this species is rarely intentionally eaten by others.

9. Crocodile Icefish

Wikimedia Commons

Where some fish just evolve antifreeze proteins to survive the deep and dark waters of the Antarctic, other fish give up “normal” blood altogether. The crocodile icefish do not transport oxygen to their tissues like other vertebrates. In fact, the crocodile icefish family (a scant 16 species in all) are the only vertebrates in existence that have evolved a circulatory system that does not use hemoglobin. They once had it—the coding is still partially present in their genome—but along the way, ancestors lost the ability to make red blood cells (RBCs).

Oddly, this is not actually a beneficial adaptation for the fish (shown in the larval stage above). It just so happened that during a species crash in the Tertiary period—when there were few predators to pick off the weak—the well-mixed, highly-oxygenated Antarctic waters allowed animals with no hemoglobin to survive, using inefficient direct oxygenation. Millenia later, they still exist, survive well in their environment, and have radically adapted their bodies to live with no RBCs: their blood vessels are huge, they have twice as much blood volume, and their heart output is more than 5 times higher than fish of comparable size. Their body is still inefficient and a lack of hemoglobin is still not a benefit to them.

10. Antarctic Sea Spiders

Keith Martin-Smith/Antarctica.gov.au

Though sea spiders (no relation to true spiders) live throughout the world, most are tiny, so small that their muscles are often only one cell long. In the Antarctic, however, sea spiders can reach up to 10 cm long, with legs sometimes 40 cm across. This is another instance of Antarctic gigantism, which isn’t fully understood. Sea spiders do not have a respiratory system, even when they get to sizes that would seem to require one for oxygenation. They eat primarily soft-bodied invertebrates, such as sea anemones, using a pointed proboscis to suck out part of the fleshy body. Unlike most invertebrates, the male is the sole caretaker of sea spider eggs. After mating, the female deposits her eggs and leaves, and the male will carry them next to his body until they hatch.

11. Colossal Squid

What would the Southern Ocean be without the colossal squid? Well, probably less terrifying, but these guys don’t like the surface waters, and can only thrive under massive amounts of pressure. While colossal squid have been found as far north as the coasts of Patagonia and the southern edge of New Zealand, they’re primarily denizens of the deep ocean surrounding Antarctica. While their tentacles are actually shorter than the giant squid, their mantle (body) is over twice as long, and at least three times as massive as their giant cousins. With eyeballs nearly a foot across—the largest in the animal kingdom—these ambush predators swim slowly about the abyss, primarily consuming toothfish, and primarily being consumed by sperm whales. In fact, they provide nearly 75 percent of the biomass consumed by the southern population of sperm whales. The long, rotating hooks on the suckers of the colossal tentacles have left inch-deep scars on the bodies of the whales who prey on them.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Health
20 States With the Highest Rates of Skin Cancer
iStock
iStock

They don’t call it the Sunshine State for nothing. Floridians get to soak up the sun year-round, but that exposure to harmful UV rays also comes with consequences. Prevention magazine reported that Florida has the highest rate of skin cancer in the U.S., according to a survey by Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS).

BCBS surveyed 9 million of its insured members who had been diagnosed with skin cancer between 2014 and 2016 and found that Florida had the highest rate of skin cancer at 7.1 percent. People living in eastern states tend to be more prone to skin cancer, and diagnoses are more common among women.

Here are the 20 states with the highest rates of skin cancer:

1. Florida: 7.1 percent
2. Washington, D.C.: 5.8 percent
3. Connecticut: 5.6 percent
4. Maryland: 5.3 percent
5. Rhode Island: 5.3 percent
6. Vermont: 5.3 percent
7. North Carolina: 5.2 percent
8. New York: 5 percent
9. Massachusetts: 5 percent
10. Colorado: 5 percent
11. Arizona: 5 percent
12. Virginia: 5 percent
13. Delaware: 4.8 percent
14. Kentucky: 4.7 percent
15. Alabama: 4.7 percent
16. New Jersey: 4.7 percent
17. Georgia: 4.7 percent
18. West Virginia: 4.5 percent
19. Tennessee: 4.5 percent
20. South Carolina: 4.4 percent

It may come as a surprise that sunny California doesn’t make the top 20, and Hawaii is the state with the lowest rate of skin cancer at 1.8 percent. Prevention magazine explains that this could be due to the large population of senior citizens in Florida and the fact that the risk of melanoma, a rare but deadly type of skin cancer, increases with age. People living in regions with higher altitudes also face a greater risk of skin cancer due to the thinner atmosphere and greater exposure to UV radiation, which explains why Colorado is in the top 10.

The good news is that the technology used to detect skin cancer is improving, and researchers hope that AI can soon be incorporated into more skin cancer screenings. To reduce your risk, be sure to wear SPF 30+ sunscreen when you know you’ll be spending time outside, and don’t forget to reapply it every two hours. 

[h/t Prevention]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
arrow
Food
9 Healthy Frozen Meals to Keep in Your Freezer

Frozen dinners don’t exactly have the best reputation when it comes to nutrition. Many of the pre-made meals you’ll find at your local supermarket are loaded with sodium, fat, and calories. But there are still a few nutritious (and tasty) options, as long as you know where to look. Here are a few frozen food brands to keep in your freezer for those times when you need something quick, painless, and yes, healthy.

1. LOVE THE WILD

Pescatarians rejoice: This Colorado-based company specializes in meals made from sustainable, farm-raised seafood. They have your traditional microwaveable meals—like the Baja-style fish taco bowl and the sweet and spicy Korean BBQ bowl—but they also offer oven-ready fish kits. Cooking is easy: Simply place the provided (heart-shaped!) parchment on a baking sheet with the filet on one side; put the frozen sauce cubes on top; wrap it up; and pop it in the oven to bake for 20 to 25 minutes. You can also throw in any veggies you might have in your freezer, and Love the Wild provides some tasty recipe ideas on its website. Even Leonardo DiCaprio is a fan: “LoveTheWild’s approach to sustainable, responsible aquaculture is promoting the development of a secure and environmentally-conscious solution to feeding our planet’s growing population," he said last year after investing in the company.

2. CAPPELLO'S

Who says pizza has to be bad for you? With Cappello’s naked pizza crusts, you can build your own healthy pie just the way you like it. The crusts are made from arrowroot and coconut flours and are gluten-free, grain-free, and paleo-friendly. The brand also makes pre-made pizzas, vegan cookie dough, and a few varieties of pasta, including lasagna sheets, fettuccine, and gnocchi. Cappello's recommends recipes on its website, and the summer pesto pizza with chicken breast, goat cheese, and arugula is a great, light dish to serve at outdoor parties this season.

3. BEYOND MEAT

Vegetarian burgers on the grill
Beyond Meat

The Beyond Meat team set out to create a vegan burger that looks, tastes, and even "bleeds" like a real beef patty (due to the beet juice used to make the patties red). Ethan Brown, the company's founder, insists that the patties aren't much different from meat burgers. "Our company observation has always been that you don’t need an animal to produce a piece of meat," he tells Forbes. "You can obtain all of the core parts of meat—the amino acids, the lipids, the trace minerals and of course water from non-animal sources. And you can assemble those in the same architecture as animal meat." Some of their products are sold in the meat section of grocery stores, but a few items are available frozen, including The Beast Burger 2.0. Bill Gates and DiCaprio are both investors, and the company just announced it will start selling its products on six continents this summer.

4. GOOD FOOD MADE SIMPLE

As the name suggests, you’ll find simple, wholesome ingredients here. Since it was founded in 2011, the brand has been on a mission to offer minimally processed meals that "add nothing unnecessary" by way of ingredients. The company abides by a long list of "unacceptable ingredients" [PDF], including a variety of hydrogenated oils as well as artificial preservatives, colors, flavors, and sweeteners. Although they originally dealt only in breakfast dishes for busy workers on the go—burritos, scrambled egg bowls, pancakes, steel cut oatmeal, and more—they later branched out and started offering ready-made entrées. Their egg white patties are perfect for making your own customizable breakfast sandwiches.

5. DAILY HARVEST

This subscription food service proudly wears the frozen food label. "For decades, the space has been dominated by unhealthy or pseudo-healthy products that are hyper-refined and preserved," Daily Harvest founder Rachel Drori told the Huffington Post. "We are working hard to tell a new story, about the potential in freezing unadulterated to solve the modern eating dilemma of wanting convenience without compromise." Daily Harvest points out that after three days, some frozen fruits and vegetables contain more antioxidants and vitamins than their fresh counterparts. Their produce is frozen on the farm within 24 hours of harvesting, and they offer everything from cauliflower rice and kimchi harvest bowls to chocolate protein and almond chia parfaits. The pre-portioned meals, which are delivered to customers’ homes, are backed by the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow, Serena Williams, and chef Bobby Flay.

6. EVOL

A burrito
Evol

Evol urges its customers to “think outside the microwave.” The brand’s burritos and quesadillas can be heated up in a panini press, on the stove top, or on the grill, allowing a level of customization that most frozen food brands don’t offer. A range of Asian, Italian, and Mexican dishes are available, all of which are free of antibiotics and preservatives. When asked by Dining Out why Evol has become so popular, the company's founder, Philip Anson, replied, "We built a brand rooted in love and farm-to-table values, but with some hipness to it in a category known as a cold and lonely place—legacy brands, uninspiring, mystery meat, sodium and fat." He said Evol's bowls—like truffle parmesan mac and cheese and butternut squash-sage ravioli—are their most popular dishes.

7. LUVO

Luvo’s meals are based on what they call the 3-2-None policy. This involves balancing protein, whole grains, and veggies; limiting sodium and added sugar; and avoiding all artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, and antibiotics. In addition to steam-in-pouch meals and pasta bowls, Luvo offers “power bowls” that are packed with at least two servings of vegetables. The company's emphasis on nutrition goes beyond its products, though: Luvo also partners with WhyHunger, an organization that's addressing the issue of hunger in America by tackling the root cause of the issue while recognizing "nutritious food as a human right." Luvo also partners with A Sense of Home, which helps foster children who have "aged out" of the system transition into a new home.

8. BEETNIK

Organic frozen meals with simple ingredients are the name of the game for Beetnik. Their meals are free of preservatives, gluten, MSG, high fructose corn syrup, hormones, artificial colors and flavorings, and antibiotics. One of their most popular dishes is their Peruvian seasoned chicken stew, made with tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, and spices. The company's founder, David Perkins, is a chef; when asked by Paleo Foundation what his favorite Beetnik dish is, Perkins replied, "I love our flat iron steaks, our Peruvian chicken stew, and our sablefish, but tomorrow I might give you three different items. I eat our products regularly, which is how I got into the business. Start with great ingredients."

9. EATOLOGY

Like Daily Harvest, this subscription food service delivers frozen meals right to your door via UPS. Eatology meals combine aspects of both the paleo and zone (low-carb) diets, while also incorporating lots of lean proteins and healthy fats. In addition to being paleo-friendly, there are plenty of low-carb, Whole30, and vegetarian options available. Bad news for carb lovers, though: You won't find bread, potatoes, or pasta on the menu. Their dishes change daily, but past meals have included white chicken chili on a bed of yellow squash, ratatouille, cilantro jalapeno burgers, and chili cheese fries (using sweet potatoes and carrots).

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios