A mystery bedeviling marine biologists for years was how life at the bottom of the ocean gets enough food. The measured amount of sinking organic particles did not seem to be enough to sustain the observed creatures there. The menu secret might be mucus. Tadpole-size creatures called giant larvaceans dwell in delicate houses of slime often more than a meter wide, which they use to snare food. Once a house gets too clogged, the larvacean abandons it and spins a new one. Bruce Robison and his colleagues at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in Moss Landing, Calif., spent 10 years collecting larvacean houses and videoed the building and discarding of the mucous abodes. Larvaceans spun themselves a new house every day, with enough old homes descending to account for roughly half as much carbon as the rain of organic particles. Their findings fell into the June 10 Science.
This article was originally published with the title "Dinner Slime" in Scientific American 293, 2, 28 (August 2005)