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SciShow shares the latest developments in science, this week including new insights into the evolution of giant sperm, and the discovery of a whole new order of animal.
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Sources:
http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/lookup/doi/10.1098/rspb.2014.0394
http://www.nytimes.com/1995/05/11/us/when-it-comes-to-giant-sperm-this-tiny-fruit-fly-is-a-whale.html
http://news.nationalgeographic.com.au/news/2010/11/101110-biggest-testicles-size-bushcrickets-biology-vahed-science-animals/
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080206150703.htm
http://www.marinebio.ca/hd/barnacle.php
http://www.wired.com/2012/07/more-sexy-fossil-secrets-prehistoric-sperm/
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-05/amon-noo050714.php
http://faculty.college-prep.org/~bernie/sciproject/project/Kingdoms/animals6/orders.htm
So I’m not trying to make anyone feel inadequate, or anything. But scientists have uncovered fossil evidence of an animal that produces sperm ten times longer than its body.
 
The overachiever in question is a crustacean called an ostracod, which is a type of tiny freshwater shrimp. 
 
Ostracods are still around today, and many species seem to share this ability to create enormous male sex cells. 
 
A typical ostracod specimen is about a millimeter long. Its sperm? Up to a centimeter.
 
Just to give you a sense of perspective: If humans wanted to compete in this arena, an adult human male’s sperm would need to be about 36 meters long.
 
Scientists have known about this reproductive oddity in ostracods for more than a hundred years. What we haven’t been able to figure out is what the evolutionary origins are of these giant sperm, and what function they might serve.
 
On Wednesday, researchers in Germany said that they’d found dozens of 16-million-year-old fossil ostracods in an Australian cave, and they were so well-preserved that the scientists were able to see how the sperm was configured. 
 
And they found these cells both in males, before they were released, and in females, after they’d been received.
 
Part of what they found was that the structure of the sex cells was virtually identical to those in ostracods living today. 
 
As in modern specimens, the fossil sperm lacks a flagellum, or tail. Instead, they were rolled up like balls of twine. 
 
Once inside the female, the cells gradually unravelled, turning into a big scrambled-up spaghetti-pile of sperm.
 
Now, producing such massive sperm takes a lot of energy -- up to a third of a male ostracod’s body is dedicated to making and distributing these cells. 
 
But the weird thing is, scientists don’t really have any idea what the point of it is. 
 
They conclude that, if this unusual reproductive set-up has persisted for tens of millions of years, then there must be something about it that works very well for the ostracods.
 
We just don’t know what that something is.
 
Still, the scientist whose job it is to figure out why tiny shrimp produce giant sperm must have a pretty entertaining OK Cupid profile.
 
 
Now, on the topic of evolution and underwater life, let’s talk about tentacles!
 
Up until last week, marine biologists believed that one of the largest species of sea anemones in the world was an animal known as B. daphneae, with tentacles reaching up to two meters long. 
 
But this week, thanks to DNA research led by the American Museum of Natural History, we know that it isn’t an anemone after all.
 
It just really, really looks like one.
 
It turns out it’s the first species ever identified in an entirely new order of animal life. 
 
Okay, in taxonomy, your order is the rank above your family, three ranks above your species. We humans are in the order of primates. Cats and dogs and bears and raccoons and foxes and skunks and and weasels are all in the order of carnivores. So finding a new order is a big deal.
 
So where’d this new order come from?
 
Well, for a long time, anemones have been classified mostly based on obvious physical characteristics -- or, more specifically, the characteristics they lack. Like, they don’t have bones, so they’re not fish, and they don’t build colonies, so they’re not corals.
 
But by analyzing the DNA of 112 different anemone species, the biologists were able to get a clearer sense of their evolutionary relationships and reorganize their family tree. 
 
And one of the species they studied was B. daphneae, which was only discovered in 2006 in the east Pacific, and seemed really, unusually large for an anemone.
 
As it turns out, it is both genetically and structurally something altogether completely different.
 
The animal, given the new name Relicanthus daphneae, is a beautiful example of convergent evolution, which is when two life forms from totally different evolutionary branches develop the same traits independently. 
 
In this case, with its long, brightly-colored, stinging tentacles, R. daphneae looked and acted just like an anemone.
 
But to quote the lead author of the new report: “Putting these animals in the same group would be like classifying worms and snakes together because neither have legs.”
 
Anemones are still not very well understood, and in fact life in the deep ocean is generally not well understood. 
 
With entirely new orders of life still being discovered, who knows what else we might find down there?
 
I know how you can find out! Keep watching SciShow.
 
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