Brief Summary

This is a very small Class, comprising a few species of curious structure. They are all of diminutive size, and all swim in the open ocean, rarely approaching the shore, except when washed thither by accident. They are all characterised by having a membranous expansion, resembling a large fin, on each side of the head. By means of these organs, the little Pteropod rows itself about in the open sea perpetually; being unfurnished with any means of crawling, or of affixing itself to any solid body. Some of these animals, as the genera Hyalæa and Cleodora for example, have the body enclosed in a shell of elegant form, and of a texture resembling the thinnest glass, for delicacy and transparency. The Cleodora pyramidata, one of the species of the latter genus, is of extreme delicacy and beauty. The shell is glassy and colourless; very fragile; nearly in the form of a triangular pyramid; with an aperture at its base, from which proceeds a long and slender glassy spine; and a similar spine projects from each side of the middle of the shell. The hinder part of the animal is globular and pellucid, and in the dark vividly luminous, presenting a singularly striking appearance, as it shines through its perfectly transparent lantern. Both of these are found floating in great numbers on the surface of the tropical sea.

Others are entirely destitute of a shelly covering, as is that little species which occurs in enormous profusion in the Arctic Seas, and which we now proceed to describe.

Genus Clio ("Whale-food.")

These little creatures have an oblong membranous body, without a mantle; a head formed of two rounded lobes, each of which is furnished with three long tentacles, capable of being withdrawn into a fold of skin, or protruded at pleasure. The mouth, which is terminal, has two small fleshy lips; and two eyes, of elaborate structure, are placed at the back of the neck.

The species best known is that which is commonly called by our northern voyagers, Whale-food (Clione limacina). Though not more than an inch in length, it occurs in such countless millions as to form the principal part of the nourishment required by the most gigantic of living creatures. The Clio bears some slight resemblance to a butterfly just emerged from the chrysalis, before the wings are expanded. Near the head there is on each side a large fin or wing, by the motions of which it changes its place. These motions are amusing; and as the little creatures are so abundant, they make the dreary sea quite alive with their gambols as they dance merrily along. In swimming, the Clio brings the tips of its fins almost into contact, first on one side, then on the other. In calm weather they rise to the surface in myriads, for the purpose of breathing; but scarcely have they reached it before they again descend into the deep. Mr. Scoresby kept several of them alive in a glass of sea-water for about a month, when they gradually wasted away and died. The head of one of these little creatures exhibits a most astonishing display of the wisdom of God in creation. Around the mouth are placed six tentacles, each of which is covered with about three thousand red specks, which are seen by the microscope to be transparent cylinders, each containing about twenty little suckers, capable of being thrust out, and adapted for seizing and holding their minute prey.

Thus, therefore, there will be three hundred and sixty thousand of these microscopic suckers upon the head of one Clio: an apparatus for prehension perhaps unequalled in the creation.

-Philip Henry Gosse

Public Domain

Supplier: Jennifer Hammock


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