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UH Mānoa researchers study giant sea spiders


UH Mānoa researchers participated in a study showing giant sea spiders solve one of life’s biggest challenges—getting oxygen into the body and taking it where it needs to go—in a way that is new to science. 

A dinner-plate-sized Antarctic sea spider. Photo by C. Shishido

UH Mānoa’s Amy Moran and her colleagues found giant sea spiders get oxygen through the surface of their legs. The sea spiders move oxygen around their bodies while digesting their food with involuntary contractions of the gut, which extends to the ends of the animal’s legs!

UH Manoa PhD student Caitlin Shishido photographs sea spiders at McMurdo Station. Photo by B. Tobalske

Moran, UH Mānoa associate professor of biology, and Caitlin Shishido, UH Mānoa PhD student, are two of the six authors. The study was published in the July 10, 2017 issue of Current Biology. The research was performed at McMurdo Station, Antarctica.

UH Manoa researcher Amy Moran dives with sea spiders in Antarctica. Photo by R. Robbins


What else they learned? Sea spiders are a bizarre and ancient group of marine arthropods. Sea spiders in Antarctica can reach the size of dinner plates, part of a phenomenon known as “polar gigantism.”

Most animals extract oxygen from the environment using specialized structures like gills and lungs, and distribute oxygen via their hearts and blood vessels. Sea spiders, distant marine relatives of land spiders, have no specialized structures to take up oxygen, and their hearts are weak.

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