A previously unknown species of microscopic deep-sea crustacean discovered in the abyss of the northern Pacific has been named for the heavy metal band Metallica in a tribute from the organism’s describing scientist. It joins the very small pantheon of rock ‘n’ roll crustaceans.
The name fits. Macrostylis metallicola is a worm-like creature that lives in the Clarion Clipperton Fracture Zone (CCZF), a marine habitat between Hawaii and Mexico that has garnered increasing scientific and public interest because of its wealth of precious metals.
“The powerful music of Metallica has accompanied me the majority of my life. Songs such as ‘Master of Puppets’ and ‘One’ are outstanding masterpieces in rock history and I am thrilled to be able to give something back to the band by naming a new species after them,” said study author Dr Torben Riehl in a statement.
At just 6.5 millimeters long, M. metallicola lacks eyes and pigmentation due to its deep-sea environment at depths between 4,000 and 5,000 meters (13,000 and 16,000 feet) with pressure 400 times that of our atmosphere. Its name also largely stems from the unique CCZF marine environment that is rich in manganese nodules, small metallic concretions that are several million years old and contain cobalt, copper, manganese, nickel, and rare-earth elements slated for possible future oceanic mining projects.
“Because of the wealth of resources in this part of the deep seafloor it may soon be mined for minerals needed to meet the growing demand for raw materials,” said Riehl. His team was measuring baseline conditions in order to develop management plans and mitigation strategies to ensure biodiversity and ecosystem health are maintained during mining projects.
A team of researchers at Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum and Ghent University in Belgium joined Rhiel in publishing the physiological and DNA analyses of M. metallicola in the journal PeerJ. Rhiel says he hopes his work not only honors his all-time favorite band but also raises awareness about the impacts of deep-sea mining around the world.
“The continuously rising demand for metals due to population growth, urbanization, and clean-energy technology leads to resource exploration and exploitation even in, until now, scientifically unknown and hard-to-reach parts of this world, such as the deep sea,” said Rhiel. “Very few people are aware that the vast and largely unexplored depths of the oceans harbor bizarre and undiscovered creatures—much like our new Metallica crustacean. These species are part of the Earth system on which we all depend. The deep-sea plays a role in this system being linked to the climate as well as the food webs of the oceans.”
He adds that if mining is to begin, it must be done in sustainable ways that establish limits and protected areas designed to conserve biodiversity and ecosystem functionality.