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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Giant woodlice arrive in Britain for first time

By Sarah Knapton

Giant sea woodlouse at Weymouth Sealife Centre
Giant sea woodlouse at Weymouth Sealife Centre Photo: BNPS

The one foot long Giant Isopods live up to 6,000ft down on the seabed where there is no light.

In the pitch black and cold they survive by feasting on dead and decaying fish and other marine animals.

Isopods have been unchanged for 160 million years and the creatures are sure to be popular attractions when they go on display.

Experts at the UK's Sea Life Centre parks organised for nine of them to be transported from the US where they had been caught in lobster nets in the Atlantic.

Each was individually wrapped in wet hessian and newspaper before being packed into a box of ice.

They were then flown thousands of miles to London before being transported by truck to the Sea Life Centre in Weymouth, Dorset.

The nine Isopods - Bathynonomous giganteus in Latin - will spend time in quarantine before going on display in large dark tanks in Blackpool.

Special reflective glass will give the giant creepy crawlies the feeling they are deep at the bottom of the sea, while still allowing spectators to peer in.

Chris Brown, a marine biologist who is looking after the Isopods in Weymouth, said they have adjusted well to their new environment.

He said: "Isopods live on the seabed at great depths.

"There are lots of them down at the bottom of the sea but because of the depths they live at, they rarely turn up in fishing nets or lobster pots.

"They are scavengers which feed on the carcasses of dead fish and other creatures. They are doing a very good clean-up job.

"When we flew our nine to the UK, we wrapped each one individually in wet hessian. We then covered them in wet newspaper and then encased them in ice for the journey.

"They live in the dark in temperatures as low as (39F) 4C - we are very excited.

"At the moment they are being kept in a large quarantine tank in a shaded and dark corner at the Sea Life Centre in Weymouth.

"The tank has special coolers that keeps the water at a chilly 4C. After quarantine they will be taken to the Sea Life Centre in Blackpool.

"The tank there has been fitted with reflective glass that keeps it dark inside but allows people to look in.

"It, too, is fitted with special coolers to keep the temperature at 4C (39F)."

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