6 Mar 2007

Meet the Larsen Ice Shrimp

Dear Blue Lobster:

Is it true that someone named a shrimp after gary larson, the guy who drew the far side cartoon?

w. "pappy" brimley

Dear Gentle Sir:

While there is a shrimp called Larsen, it's not named for the cartoonist but instead an Antarctic habitat recently revealed to science.

After the Larsen B ice shelf collapsed in early 2002, scientists discovered a completely new ecosystem untouched for the last 12,000 years, along with a completely new decapod species. Called the Larsen Ice Shrimp until it can be classified, this crustacean has the uncanny ability to freeze and unfreeze itself within seconds in order to dodge predators and conserve energy during the hard winter months.

The Ice Shrimp uses its freezing abilities by means of alcohol, which it produces from foodstuffs in small quantities and circulates throughout its body. When it is threatened, it releases the alcohol through its anus, which causes its body to freeze solid. The alcohol free in the water also serves to disorient predators. When danger has passed, the shrimp releases a chemical that rapidly converts stored food into alcohol, defrosting it.

In the Winter season, from March through August, the Ice Shrimp enters two different metabolic states in order to conserve energy. In torpor, it remains viable but motionless, simply waiting for food to come along rather than scouting for it. If it has gone more than a month without food, it will bury itself in the substrate of the ocean floor and then freeze itself until September, when the Summer season begins and food becomes more abundant.

Scientists are now studying the Larsen Ice Shrimp in hopes of more effective treatments for hypothermia as well as one day being able to stockpile human organs for later transplantation.

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