By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 11 June 2012
On this cold and wet Monday morning, what better animal to talk about than one that likes it, cold and wet? Although it spends most of its time wallowing in silt, burying itself in wet muddy-sand, it scrubs up so well it would not show you up at a cocktail party. We like them so much here at the Grant Museum that we have two whole jars of them. This week’s Specimen of the Week is….
**!!!The Sea Mice!!!**
1) Sea mice are small, furry, cute rodents… yes? Nooooooo. Small, yes. Furry, yes. Cute… if you like. Rodents, nuh uh. They are in fact worms. But very pretty worms I’m sure you’ll agree?
2) Sea mice have a dense layer of hair-like spines, resembling the fur of a mouse, along their backs. These spines are highly iridescent, and very beautiful. Once you have washed off all of the silt and sand that they burrow in that is. They appear iridescent green when in the right light (and clean). This colour is thought to scare off predators.
3) Sea mice inhabit the sea floor all along the British coastline. As with garden worms, they are highly abundant. However, trawling and dredging equipment which is purposefully dragged along the sea floor, kills many individuals. In areas where fishing takes place, sea mice are hardly found, if at all. In areas without fishing, populations are high.
4) Worms they may be, but sea mice are mean machine predators. Not only do they hunt and kill other worms, but they are also ‘hard enough’ to take down crabs. Small ones anyway. They are able to eat prey items that are many times larger than themselves. What is more, they do so whole, and head first. Yeah!
5) Apparently the spines of a sea mouse handle light with “almost 100% efficiency”, which has gotten some researchers in the UK and Australia very excited. The spines, which are normally a fetching deep red under microscope, become an exotic mix of blues and greens when light is shone on them perpendicularly. Apart from the pretty pictures they can take, why do scientists care? Well apparently, they think they can copy this “technical wizardry” and with it, develop hi-tech fibre-optic communications.