The more science learns about the biological world, the more unique things we see. Most of us know about jellyfish, corals, and anemones. These ocean animals are members of the phylum Cnidaria. In that phylum, a strange order named Siphonophorae has 175 species. The Portuguese man o’ war is a member of the order of siphonophores.
Siphonophores may look like one organism, but they are actually colonies consisting of thousands of clones that function in different ways. Siphonophores start with a single “bud” called a zooid. The zooid replicates itself asexually, producing thousands of clones. Each clone has a specific job, such as eating, moving, or reproducing.
The colony of clones functions together as if they were one animal. For example, the Portuguese man o’ war has gas-filled zooids, allowing it to float on the ocean’s surface. Other zooids capture prey, while others digest the food. The individual zooids rely on each other for survival as one large functioning colony we call the Portuguese man o’ war.
In 2020, scientists found a siphonophore that was 150 feet long, probably the world’s longest animal. Most siphonophores live in the darkness of the deep oceans and are bioluminescent, using chemicals to produce light that attracts prey. The Portuguese man o’ war is an exception as a siphonophore that lives on the ocean’s surface.
The deep sea diving expeditions of the Schmidt Ocean Institute and the EV Nautilus have taught us much about the designs built into living things that allow life to exist in places totally alien to humans. Siphonophores make us realize that planet Earth is a wonderfully designed and unique place in the universe, full of amazing living creatures. We must treasure God’s gift and take care of it instead of abusing and polluting it.
There is an interesting relationship between anemones and clownfish. If you have had the joy of snorkeling in undeveloped areas, you may have had the unpleasant experience of bumping into one of some 800 species of anemones. Their tentacles contain toxin-filled capsules called nematocysts that fire stingers at anything that touches them. I can tell you from personal experience that it is extremely painful.
I finally learned to stay away from the anemones and just look at them. I saw that some fish died when they touched the tentacles. Interestingly, other fish, shrimp, and crabs lived among the tentacles and seemed unaffected by their stings. The very colorful clownfish lives right in the middle of the tentacles and appears to be immune to the anemone’s poison. Spider crabs and shrimp live at the base of the anemones. Crabs carry around baby anemones using them as defensive weapons. Even a baby anemone could deliver a nasty sting to my finger.
The clownfish seem to have the greatest skill for avoiding the anemone stings. When the clownfish is threatened, it will dive into the anemone tentacles for protection. The anemones eat algae remains that float in the water, and also small fish, sea urchins, shrimp, and some crabs. The clownfish benefit the anemones by removing parasites from them while the anemones provide the clownfish protection from predators.
So how do the clownfish avoid being stung by the anemones? They secrete a very thick mucus that does not trigger a response from the nematocysts. The clownfish can be all over the anemones and not get stung. Scientists are studying the mucus of the clownfish because it has potential uses for humans. The mucus is an anticoagulant and disrupts the gill function in sharks, making it an excellent shark repellent. Some researchers believe that the clownfish gets the mucus from the anemones, but other research studies show that the clownfish has a gene that produces the mucus. Research continues in the study of anemones and clownfish.
Science has a lot of data without a clear answer to how anemones and clownfish live in such a well-orchestrated symbiotic relationship. It would appear that the design of this symbiosis, like many others, is a product of God’s design and is not naturally acquired.