World

Internet Puzzled By Mysterious 'Tongue' Creature

| by Michael Howard

A mysterious creature that resembles a human tongue was discovered on a beach in Australia, leading to speculation on the internet as to what it might be.

The strange specimen washed up on a beach in South Fremantle, a suburb of Perth in Western Australia. About 3 inches long and pinkish-red in color, the critter appears at first glance to be a severed human tongue.

One of the beachgoers uploaded an image of the creature to Facebook, igniting a wave of speculation.

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"Ew it really looks like a cut out tongue," one user wrote in the comments, according to the Daily Mail.

Others guessed that it might be the remains of something eaten by a shark, an ox-tongue mushroom or a polished coral.

The truth was eventually revealed by Dr. Jane Fromont, head of aquatic zoology at Western Australia Museum.

"It is an ascidian or sea squirt," she told WA Today.

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"This particular specimen is a colonial ascidian, meaning that it has numerous individuals within the dark pink oval jelly casing seen in the image," she explained. "Each little whitish flower like shape indicates an individual."

Fromont's identification was confirmed by Department of Fisheries Principal Biosecurity Scientist Dr. Justin McDonald, who said the animal had tried to conceal itself.

"When you disturb the animal they retract and close their openings and essentially start to shrivel up," he said. "The colonial ascidian has retracted but not yet shriveled."

According to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, ascidians are nicknamed sea squirts because of their tendency to excrete liquid after being removed from the water.

Also known as tunicates, sea squirts are protected by rubbery coat called a tunic.

Despite their appearance, sea squirts have spinal cords and backbones. They also possess both sex organs, but cannot self-fertilize.

While scientists knew what this creature was, a 2012 biodiversity study said around two-thirds of  plant and animal life in the world's oceans remains undiscovered, reports U.S. News & World Report. The study said up to 1 million new species could be in the oceans.

"If you consider fish, we estimate there are 5,000 species still undescribed," said UNESCO marine biologist Ward Appletans. "We're discovering 150 new species of fish every year -- 30 years at that rate, and it's mission accomplished."

"When you go to the deep sea, every time you take a sample, you'll find a new species," he says. "But we think the deep sea is less diverse than we thought previously. Most of the diversity is in the tropics and the coastlines and the small islands of the Pacific, where little exploration has been done."

Sources: Daily Mail, WA TodayWoods Hole Oceanographic Institution, U.S. News & World Report / Photo credit: Cahra Swarrin via Daily Mail

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