Saturday, 8 June 2013

Seven new species of sea urchins discovered in New Zealand

Deep water sea urchins have been little studied
June 2013. Seven new species of sea urchins (Known as Tam o'Shanters) have been discovered in a collection of urchins at the New Zealand National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research's (NIWA) Invertebrate Collection.

Deep water fisheries scientist Owen Anderson says unfortunately people have little chance of seeing any of the new species alive because they live so deep in the ocean. They are not found on beaches and are too deep for divers to see so to find one is incredibly rare. They are occasionally seen when caught in deep sea nets.

Live in deep water
"These urchins live at a depth of 100-1200 metres and are named Tam o'Shanter as their shape is similar to a Scottish hat. New Zealand waters are rich with diversity when it comes to this urchin group - there are about 50 known species in the world with nearly a third of these found in New Zealand waters."

These deep sea urchins do not have a hard shell like their cousin kina and the various tropical species that can be seen in less than 10 metres of water, instead the Tam o'Shanter have a flexible leathery outer skin adapted for the deep sea environment in which they live, says Mr Anderson.

"There are many different kinds of urchins, which I hadn't appreciated before I started researching kina but now I am hooked. I love the symmetry and detail of the shell plating, they are very beautiful. I had the privilege of naming the seven new species and I'm also in the process of researching, identifying, and describing a further seven species."

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