Sometimes called a “sea mouse,” Aphrodita aculeate bears the name of the Greek goddess of love, also known as Venus, who emerged from the sea. Its common name may be a reference to its appearance when it washes up on the shores of Europe, where it is relatively common. It is there that may be found on beaches within its range after storms when it resembles a waterlogged dead rodent. It is often found on the beaches of the British isles.
It is a polychaete worm, not a fish. Normally, it lies buried head-first in the sand and has been found as far down as 9,800 feet below the ocean surface. It is found in the North Atlantic, North Sea, Baltic Sea, and the Mediterranean. It has been found as far west as Newfoundland.
The sea mouse is often found cast up on beaches. At the bottom, the iridescent setae can be seen clearly.
The name of its genus is owed because, when viewed ventrally, it is said to resemble a human female’s genitalia. The species or specific name, aculeate, is Latin for spiny. This refers to the dense mat of hairlike structures known as setae that covers its dorsal side. These form the most characteristic feature of the freaky creature, making it quite unique. Usually, the setae who show a deep red sheen that serves to keep predators wary.
However, when light shines on the setae perpendicularly, the setae flush with green and blue highlights. This is a notable kind of iridescent photonic engineering that is accomplished by a living organism, which is mimicked by fiber-optic cables that are used to transmit data around the world. This structural coloration serves as the organism’s defense mechanism. Each of the setae consists of multiple hexagonal cylinders that function far more efficiently than man-made fiber-optic cables. (See scientific paper here
When washed up on beaches, Aphrodita aculeate resembles a dead rat or mouse, hence its common name
Related species, such as Aphrodita alta and Aphrodita peramata, do not feature iridescent setae.
The night-time is the right time for the ravenous sea mouse, once it emerges from its sea bottom lair to start its crawling. An active predator and scavenger, it is known to feast on crabs and other active or sedentary polychaete worms, including those from the Pectinaria and Lumbriconereis genera. A feisty feaster, Aphrodita aculeate attacks and devours worms three times of own length. Normally, the sea mouse consumes its prey head first, and then excretes the remains as a fecal pellet in the same order. Able to devour prey much larger than itself, the sea mouse has been observed eating the king rag worm (Nereis virens), which is approximately three times its length. This has been likened to a hedgehog swallowing a snake. The sea mouse usually grows to a length between 3 and 10 inches, but specimens of up to 30 inches long have been reported.
King rag worms (Nereis virens)
All members of its genus are covered with scales, called elytra, on their dorsal surface, which in the case of Aphrodita aculeate is additionally covered by the setae.
The sea mouse crawls on the sea bed by moving its spine-like parapodia feet in a quick stepping pattern, unlike the undulating motion characteristic of other polychaete worms.
The two sexes of Aphrodita aculeate release their gametes – ova and sperm – from their body cavities into the sea. Spawning occurs in northern waters In October, while in the Mediterranean it appears to spawn in January. Once the ova are fertilized, they develop into larvae, probably free-swimming. Very little is known about its larval stage.
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