Deep-Sea Explorers Discover A "Headless Chicken Monster"

This odd-looking creature is known as “the dreamer”, “Spanish dancer”, or “headless chicken monster”. Courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Gulf of Mexico 2017.

Most scientists call this strange life form “Enypniastes eximia”, while others call it “the dreamer” or “Spanish dancer”. However, it’s best known to remotely-operated vehicle (ROV) pilots as the “headless chicken monster”.

The alien-like sea cucumber was spotted during a recent exploration of the Gulf of Mexico (video below). Just like other species of sea cucumber across the globe, it spends most of its time on the seafloor. Occasionally, however, they do swim around, particularly if there’s a potential predator lurking nearby. In these instances, they usually let out a quick poop in order to reduce their body weight as much as possible.

The team working on this dive aren’t quite sure where the name “headless chicken monster” came from; however, it likely has something to do with its poultry-like appearance and seemingly aimless wandering. You can hardly blame these creatures for that though, as most sea cucumbers don’t have a true brain nor any distinct sensory organs. However, they do have nerve endings on the skin that respond to touch and light. 

Since little is know about the deep-sea ecosystem along the US portion of the Gulf of Mexico, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) carried out a federally funded study of the area earlier this month. From November 30 until December 20, they performed daytime ROV dives and overnight mapping operations. Throughout their exploration, they came across a bunch of incredible creaturesincluding dumbo octopuses, iridescent squids, strange sea spiders, and much more.

The recent exploration will play a paramount role in our understanding of this marine habitat. The Gulf of Mexico is home to many vulnerable marine species, including deep-sea coral and sponge communities, as well as fascinating geological features like mud volcanoes. It was also a hub of maritime activity, so their research could dig up some insights into US history. The research will also be used to guide government policy, especially as the area has faced some substantial changes due to industrial activity.

The fieldwork of the mission is now over, but the team have two additional cruises scheduled for Spring 2018 (which will hopefully be live-streamed too). You can see more findings from their latest study in NOAA’s extensive video and photo log from the mission.


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