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Credit: LKCNHM/© SJADES 2018

Researchers find impressive new species of giant isopod, aka 'Darth Vader of the Seas'

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Aug 24, 2020, 10:05 PM EDT (Updated)

When you're a notorious Sith Lord inflicting fear across the Star Wars galaxy, your name is bound to pop up in describing the flora and fauna of other planets... like Earth! 

Meet the colossal sea louse called a supergiant isopod, recently yanked from the ocean waters near Indonesia. Scientists have affectionately dubbed the genus "Darth Vader of the Seas," due to its distinctively sinister qualities and bug-like helmeted head.

Bathynomus raksasa is a new species of oceanic cockroach first discovered back in 2018 in a comprehensive marine survey headed up by Peter Ng of the National University of Singapore, whose colleagues explored 63 different sites over the course of two weeks. This intimidating 14-legged sea cockroach discovered in the Indian Ocean was identified as a gigantic new specimen after Ng and his team investigated it for close to two years. 

Credit: SJADES 2018/LKCNHM

According to a new paper published last month in the scientific journal ZooKeys, researchers caught B. rakasa while conducting field studies on the South Java Deep Sea Biodiversity Expedition two years ago, where they encountered two specimens (male and female) off the southern tip of Java at depths varying between 3,117 and 4,134 feet. The strange shape of B. rakasa's imposing head shield, abdominal segments, and the multitude of 11 to 13 spines on its abdomen are all indicative of a brand new species.

The fruitful 14-day endeavor that captured these rare deep sea Bathynomus isopods was organized by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum as a joint initiative under the RISING50 program celebrating 50 years of diplomatic relations between Singapore and Indonesia. In an elated Instagram post from 2018, expedition member Muhammad Dzaki Bin Safaruan lifted up the beefy isopod aboard the Indonesian research vessel Baruna Jaya VIII.

These types of primeval-looking crustaceans belong to the Isopoda order, which is home to nearly 10,000 isopod varieties existing on land and in the ocean. Their sizes span the range of only a few millimeters to almost 20 inches long. This newly-catalogued isopod is one of the biggest Bathynomus species ever seen in Indonesian waters measuring in at a length of 1.6 feet.

"Rakasa" is the Indonesian word for giant, which is perfectly appropriate upon witnessing the creature's "most impressive" girth. It's the first new giant isopod species to be described in over 10 years.

Credit: LKCNHM

"The identification of this new species is an indication of just how little we know about the oceans," explained study co-author Helen Wong, with St. John’s Island National Marine Laboratory, part of the Tropical Marine Science Institute at the National University of Singapore. "There is certainly more for us to explore in terms of biodiversity in the deep sea of our region."

Luckily the "Darth Vader of the Seas" is not armed with 13 light sabers to cut down Force sensitive denizens of the deep!


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