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This roach-sized ‘voracious predator’ attacked and ate everything it met, NOAA says

Called “Big Red” for the time being, this is a relatively large copepod that is a voracious predator on other zooplankton.
Called “Big Red” for the time being, this is a relatively large copepod that is a voracious predator on other zooplankton. Photo by Russ Hopcroft, University of Alaska Fairbanks

Ocean predators come in all sizes, and a team of scientists working in the Gulf of Alaska last week says it found one of the smallest and most insatiable.

Looking like an aquatic roach, the half-inch-long copepod has terrorized everything biologists mistakenly sat next to it, according to a Facebook post by researchers working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

They nicknamed it Big Red, in part because he’s monstrous — for a zooplankton, that is.

“The team learned that this copepod is not only big and red, he is also a voracious predator, having eaten the other copepods that were (unluckily) left in a jar with him,” said the Aug. 3 Facebook post.

“We left them alone in the same jar for several hours, only to come back and find many partial copepods in that container, along with one that seemed very happy,” according to a NOAA Ocean Exploration and Research report.

Copepods are a class of small crustaceans and most adults are about one-tenth the size of Big Red, according to MarineSpecies.org.

The NOAA-backed team found Big Red — who was 0.47244094 of an inch long — while collecting plankton Aug. 1, said Russ Hopcroft, a professor in oceanography at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

The team was searching areas as deep as 9,842 feet and Big Red was among the species captured in deeper waters. Some of the species were “highly predatory,” Hopcroft said in his report.

“Note to self,” wrote Hopcroft, the “one we called Big Red should never be put in a jar with anyone else.”

He did not say what became of Big Red after the two-week Gulf of Alaska Seamounts mission ended Aug. 3.

Commenters on NOAA Ocean Exploration’s Facebook page clearly saw Big Red’s resemblance to a household pest, with Blanche Gordan saying what others were likely thinking: “Looks like an underwater cockroach!”

The expedition sought to study the gulf’s “ecological health,” including less-studied deep areas, which NOAA says are being compromised by ocean warming. The gulf is “well known for its iconic species and extensive fisheries that supply U.S. and international markets with high-quality seafood,” according to the mission overview.

This strange underwater creature is a cockatoo squid that showed up 1,729 feet down as a team explored the ocean floor off the Gulf of Alaska's continental slope.

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