Ocean Just as Gross as You Thought: Filled with Mucus

  • Small creatures blow "snot palaces" out of the tops of their heads.
  • It's an engineering marvel, but still super gross.

There are so many reasons not to go into the ocean. Sharks, pollution, islands of plastic, whales pee in it; the list goes on and on. Granted, I’m an indoor kid, but you have to admit ever since Jaws came out, the ocean has felt less like summer fun, and more like a low-level menacing presence. Are you not convinced yet? Well, how’s this; there are ocean animals who build houses from snot oozing out of their heads. And, they have to rebuild the structures almost every day because they’re just as wasteful as humans. 

Photo by Michal Pechardo on Unsplash
Very cool, very gross

That means they’re leaving “snot palaces,” so dubbed by bioengineer Kakani Katija who spoke to the Associated Press about her discovery. Katija and her team at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute want to recreate the snot structures because they’re so beneficial to the ocean. But, they’re also incredibly fragile, since they’re made with mucus and all. Gross-ness aside, the animals, who are about four inches long and look like tadpoles, are engineering geniuses. First, the structures are almost three feet wide. It’s the equivalent of a human building a five-story house every day. 


 

The structure itself guides water flow and prey right to the tadpole creature. Also, it obscures the animals from other predatory fish. As the mucus houses get clogged with ocean debris, the creatures release them to the ocean floor. The structures collect carbon and microplastics, also bringing them to the ocean floor. Then, and try not to gag here, bottom dwellers on the ocean floor, eat the entire thing. 

Photo by Laurel and Michael Evans on Unsplash
Snot Palaces on Mars

Katija used 3D laser scanning technology to recreate a structure with a 3D printer. They’re hoping that by studying it, they’ll generate fresh ideas for not only reducing pollution but also how to quickly build expansive structures under challenging environments. Somehow, the snot houses are already fully formed when the creatures secrete them. The little guys just inflate them to their massive size. The scientists want to continue their research to see if there are space applications for the technology and building on the moon or Mars. 

 

But don’t lose sight of the primary point of the discovery. These tadpole guys are blowing snot rockets all over the ocean, and there’s an excellent chance that you could run into one. Just stay on the beach, read a book, play some frisbee, let the snot monsters and sharks have the sea. 

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