Three colourful creatures captured using a remotely operated vehicle on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean have been identified as Torquaratoridae, a recently discovered family of acorn worms.
The worms have no eyes or tail but are able to crawl along the sea floor harvesting food which has fallen from the surface.
They were captured by scientists from the University of Aberdeen’s Oceanlab during a voyage to the Mid Atlantic Ocean on the RRS James Cook.
It is hoped that the identification of the tiny creatures could provide new insight into life in the deep sea and the evolution of life on earth.
Professor Monty Priede, Oceanlab director and expedition leader, said: “This is another exciting find for the Oceanlab team and it is strange to think that when I began my career as a zoologist I thought all the great discoveries had been made in the 1800s at the time of Charles Darwin.
“Now new technology and remotely operated vehicles are allowing us to reach new depths and capture new creatures. Oceanlab is at the forefront of this new technology and finds like this demonstrate that the age of discovery is far from over.
“Acorn worms are known as a scientific curiosity, inconspicuous burrowing animals that are related to the ancestors of back boned animals.
“They are perceived as an evolutionary dead end, having been surpassed by their cousins, the fishes which acquired tails became fast swimmers, conquered the oceans and gave rise to reptiles, mammals and birds.”
Deep sea explorations like the one done by the Aberdeen team are likely to lead to an “evolutionary explosion” of new animals, with 15 species discovered so far and many more still to be found, the professor said.
A paper on the identification of the three new species was published in Proceedings of the Royal Society Series B.