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Medusa's Daughter



© F. Zuberer/CNRS Photothèque

Animal? Vegetal? Mineral? Hard to tell with what looks like an elaborate doodle in the corner of Nature’s notebook. Even its vernacular name “Gorgon’s head” evokes the hybrid mythical monster Medusa, a Gorgon whose curls were said to end in live hissing snakes. Yet the Gorgonocephalidae Astrospartus mediterraneus, snapped here with its hair down near the Mediterranean island of Frioul, won’t turn anyone to stone. Not only is it deprived of eyes, but this echinoderm found between 40 and 800 meters deep is highly sensitive to light. It usually spends the day coiled onto itself like a knotted ball and only spreads open its tentacles at night to collect plankton and other tiny critters floating in the current. Frédéric Zuberer from the Oceanology Center of Marseille1 took this rare shot while studying the coral that the lace-limbed star was gripping. Called sea fans, these supple fan-shaped corals are studied because they are believed to be sensitive to climatic variations in the ocean’s temperature.

Notes :

1. Centre d'océanologie de Marseille (CNRS / Université Aix-Marseille-II).

Contacts :

Frédéric Zuberer,


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