Sunday, January 13, 2008

The sea anemone's barbed broadside

Its flowery name belies the sea anemone's deadly nature. Found on rocks from shallow waters and tidal zones down to the deepest parts of the ocean, it is not as innocent as it appears, for its colourful, petal-like tentacles are capable of killing. On each one there are thousands of nematocysts, specialised cells containing tiny structures like harpoons.

When a small fish brushes up against the anemone, it triggers off a massive harpoon attack. Each harpoon is firmly attached by a thread and has a poisoned barb that, once lodged in the prey, cannot be taken out. With its poisoned victim paralysed and secured by the thread, the anemone then devours its prey.

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