Incredible Invertebrates: From adaptations to discoveries

May 15th, 2024

Recent research from Australian Journal of Zoology, Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria, Marine and Freshwater Research, and Invertebrate Systematics.
An octopus reaches towards the viewer while swimming over a coral reef.

Octopuses are invertebrates, which means they don’t have a backbone. (Photo: Rich Carey, Getty Images Pro)


To humans, many invertebrates can seem alien and strange, or have incredible superpowers unlike any other creature on Earth. The reality is that animals in this category are an essential part of biodiversity and a functioning ecosystem, and the decline of many species could spell trouble for the future of our planet.

We’ve gathered some of the fascinating stories from the world of invertebrates, based on research published in several of our journals.


Shrimp-like species living in lethal temperatures in ancient Incan hot spring

In an ancient hot spring in Peru, a species of shrimp-like amphipods was documented thriving at extreme temperatures by Japanese and Peruvian researchers. These tiny scavengers have adapted to survive in record temperatures that would be lethal to other crustaceans.

The research article, published in Invertebrate Systematics, sheds light on how these invertebrates have evolved to withstand high temperatures, offering valuable insights into the effects of global warming on freshwater organisms. This discovery underscores the importance of studying the ecology and physiology of these unique creatures for conservation efforts.

Learn more about this remarkable finding in Hiroshima University’s media release.


Understanding pollinators in a changing climate

Insect pollination is essential for many flowering plants that underpin agriculture and food production, as well as the ecological management of terrestrial environments.

With increased awareness of the value of pollination in a changing world, it is important to better understand alternative pollinators to bees, especially how different species tolerate changing environmental conditions.

An Open Access review published in Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria encapsulates a decade of comparative research that was principally conducted in Australia, a continent that is uniquely placed to facilitates insights into complex processes operating over evolutionary time.

In their paper, they present “tangible solutions for how technological applications such as mining of information from social network sites, and the use of imaging data combined with artificial intelligence can enhance our understanding of pollinator networks to help manage sustainable food production in a changing world.”

A bee sits on a yellow flower, it's posterior covered in pollen

While bees, like this Leafcutter bee, are well-known for their role in pollination, other insects are also vital. (Photo: Jean and Fred Hort)


How do you estimate the age of an octopus?

University of South Australia marine scientists have developed a practical tool for estimating the age of octopuses, publishing their Open Access guide in Marine and Freshwater Research.

Understanding the age of octopuses helps in determining growth rates, reproductive cycles, and sustainable harvesting practices. By accurately ageing these cephalopods, researchers can make informed decisions for general conservation and management of a species, whether it is fished or not.

Explore more about this age estimation tool in the university’s media release.

An octopus hatchling, with brown and white splotchy skin.

Octopus berrima hatchling, which was one of the species used to help develop the guide. (Photo: Erica Durante)


These scorpions can be distinguished solely by their male reproductive anatomy

Researchers noticed something interesting when taking a closer look at some burrowing scorpions: the males had a uniquely swollen tail tip that set them apart from others. It turns out that this externally visible difference was only the ‘tip’ of something bigger. By examining internal genital structures, the Flinders University scientists revealed distinct characteristics that differentiate the scorpions from known species.

Their findings, published Open Access in the Australian Journal of Zoology, suggests significantly more scorpion species remain undescribed in Australia than previously suspected. The research highlights the need for further research on scorpion diversity in Australia to enhance conservation efforts and protect these intriguing creatures and their habitats.

Read more about this research in an article by the authors in The Conversation.


Looks like an alien, named after a strawberry

Meet the Antarctic strawberry feather star, a newly described species with a spooky appearance reminiscent of an alien creature. This alien-like echinoderm, with a body shaped like a plump fruit, has “arms” up to 8 inches long and studded with bumps or feathery tendrils. Scientifically named Promachocrinus fragarius is one of four species described in a research article published in Invertebrate Systematics.

Discovered at depths of up to 3,800 feet, this fascinating creature serves as a reminder of the diversity and splendour of marine life in challenging ecosystems. Embracing the importance of conserving all habitats, including the deep sea, is essential for preserving the rich biodiversity of our planet.

Dive deeper into the exploration of this unusual species in an article in Popular Science.

A 20-armed feather star specimen against a black backdrop. It's limbs are long, pale and feathered, and the creature has an overall eerie and alien appearance.

The alien-looking Antarctic strawberry feather star, Promachocrinus fragarius. (Photo: Greg Rouse)


Enjoyed these science stories? Visit our website to discover more brilliant research published in our journals, and sign up for our emails to stay up-to-date with the latest research.