Marine scientists find bizarre creatures in Australian reefs

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Canberra, September 19 : A team of marine scientists has found hundreds of new lifeforms, which includes some bizarre creatures, on Lizard and Heron islands on the Great Barrier Reef and Ningaloo Reef off Western Australia.

According to a report carried out in www.news.com.au, the research project has taken four years and revealed some strange creatures.

Among those found was a "tongue biter" parasite that eats the tongues of host fish and then essentially becomes the new tongue by attaching itself to the fish's mouth.

The study also found hundreds of previously unknown soft corals, brightly coloured jellyfish, crabs and other creatures they believe may hold the key to curing some human diseases.

Coral researchers said that the discoveries are just a tiny fraction of an estimated 9 million species of coral yet to be found and identified.

The project, known as the Census of Marine Life, will release its final findings in 2010.

But, chief scientist Ron O'Dor said that hundreds of thousands of forms of life remained to be discovered.

"Amazingly colourful corals and fishes on reefs have long dazzled divers," he said. "But our eyes are just opening to the astonishing richness of other life forms in these habitats," he added.

"Knowledge of this ocean diversity matters on many levels, including possibly human health - one of these creatures may have properties of enormous value to humanity," he added.

According to Dr Nancy Knowlton of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, the new Australian expeditions revealed how far we are from knowing how many species live in coral reefs around the globe.

"Estimates span the huge range from one to 9 million," she said.

The Australian studies discovered about 300 soft coral species and dozens of crustaceans - some with whip-like back legs and claws longer than their bodies.

Some of these species are believed to be previously unknown to science. They also documented the cassiopeia jellyfish, which turns upside down and waves its tentacles in the air so algae living on it can capture sunlight for photosynthesis.

Also recorded were various isopods, or small crustaceans often referred to as vultures of the sea, because some feed on dead fish.

One species, cymothoidae, burrow into the flesh of live fish and eat their tongues out, the team said.

ANI

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