Tuesday, July 31, 2012

101 Interesting Things, part forty-eight: Pyura chilensis

Let's have ourselves a little climb up the family tree.  In the kingdom Animalia, phylum Chordata, you'll find the class Ascidiacea.  Ascidians are the sea squirts, immobile filter feeders who sit in one place and just process whatever floats by.  You know your sea squirts, right?

You've got all kinds of sea squirts, even carnivorous ones:

Leave it to Australia, where everything is trying to kill you.

And then you've got this thing:

Boys and girls, meet Pyura chilensis, one of our cousins.  As with stars, appearances can be deceiving with this one.  Beneath that sandy, rocky-lookin', puckered exterior lies the heart of a chordate.  Well, not the heart per se, but the kidney, intestine, stomach, gonads, you get the idea.  Cut that sucker open, and look inside:

The juvenile stage, at bottom, showcases the notochord.
Thank science for cognates, too, huh?

It's got oral and anal siphons, and pumps seawater through, filtering out nutrients directly from the mix along its convoluted digestive tract.  The adults are hermaphroditic, and send zillions of both kinds of gametes out into the water in a cloud; this allows the animal to reproduce sexually with others or by itself, wherever it happens to be.  And just because I hope you're eating right now:

Not Photoshopped.  The critter's blood is clear, but that's definitely meat inside.  It's said to taste strongly of iodine, and is unusually high in friggin' vanadium of all things.  Yes, people eat it.  Here's a chef preparing some right now:
OK, now I want to eat it.  But then, I've eaten a scorpion,
so maybe I'm not the best one to be making this decision.

What I can't get over - and maybe this is just me - is that this animal has developed probably the best camouflage ever.  It looks like just some rock.  And then people come along, and we manage to see right through it and eat it anyway.  Even the Wikipedia page only has photos of it prepared as food.  Although I suppose when you think of it that way, pretty much any kind of food seems weird after a while.


Adam Lee said...

I can safely say I have no desire to eat that, as alluringly weird and bizarre as it would be to cut open something that to all appearances is a boulder and find it's full of organs and viscera.

D said...

Well, at least you still find the weird and bizarre to be alluring. Can you believe that there are some people who wouldn't eat it because it's "gross"? In my experience, "gross" has always meant "fascinating in ways I don't yet understand." Fascination always makes the yuck go away.

Anonymous said...

I ate oe of these while we were filming quantum of sole near Antofugasta, tasted amazing and the stunningly beautiful people who served it to usstated that if you ate it you would never grow old

Anonymous said...

@D Well put!