Snot palaces reveal a new way of life

Scientific American‘s “60-Second Science” looks into the mucus mansions built by sea creatures with complex (if slimy) home lives:

Kakani Katija, a bioengineer at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute… says that larvaceans look a lot like tadpoles—and even the ones called “giant” larvaceans are only about four inches long. But they excrete spectacular mucus structures around them—shaped almost like a neck pillow you’d bring on a plane, but with ridges and baffles running through them. These “snot palaces”, as some people actually call them, help the animals filter ocean waters for food.

Katija’s team sent a robot diving in California’s Monterey Bay to observe those mucus mansions, as nobody appears to call them, in greater detail than ever before, by shooting laser light at the larvaceans. Those expeditions have allowed the researchers to create 3D models—which means you’ll soon be able to 3D print your own larvacean, too, if you like. And they plugged the models into a virtual reality environment. “So somebody can walk inside and through these filters.”

You can read more of Katija’s research in Nature.