Beckie. Uk dweller. Sober. Vegan. Healthy eating advocate. Shy. Lover of nature and grindcore. Ferret mum. Body modification. Fitness enthusiast. Boulderer. Thinker. Helper. Trying to find my dream life.
Siphonophores raise some really important philosophical questions about what makes an individual organism, but first I should probably explain what they are. The most famous example is the Portuguese man o’ war, which is often incorrectly classified as a jellyfish. Other notable members include the praya dubia which is one of the longest creatures we know of at an astounding 50-60 meters, and a recently discovered species of the Erenna genus that produces an extremely rare red bioluminescense.
The Siphonophore is composed of zooids, each a singular animal within the colony, which are specialized for certain tasks. These zooids are capable of performing their duties on their own to the benefit of the collective, but they must rely on others types of zooids to perform the functions they cannot. This doesn’t necessarily make them individuals. Despite all the things that separate from the rest of the colony, the entire siphonophore still grows from a single egg.
So are they one creature or many? That’s where it gets complicated. Zoom back far enough and it certainly looks and behaves as one animal, but the closer you examine it the more distinctive the pieces become. Because they hover right on the line between colonial and a complex multicelled organism the siphonophore may hold some very important clues as to how evolution could have bridged that gap. That, to me, is truly amazing.
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