Sea Squirt With a Panda Face

A sea squirt that lives off the coast of Japan and has a distinctive “panda face” is a new species to science. Oh, did we mention it has a skeleton-like body? You just can’t make this stuff up.

Divers have been taking pictures of this mysterious colonial ascidian called gaikotsu-panda-hoya in Japanese and posting them online since at least 2018. When one Japanese researcher saw the photos, he set out to find out more about this unique animal.

In a research paper, authors and scientists Naohiro Hasegawa and Hiroshi Kajihara say they took samples of the sea squirt with a panda face from a diving point off the coast of Kumejima Island.

“Our morphological examination revealed that they represent a new species, herein described as Clavelina ossipandae sp. nov., which can be distinguished from 44 congeners in the genus Clavelina,” the paper says.

The skeleton panda sea squirt (Clavelina ossipandae) lives in a colony with others of its kind. Each one has black markings, which look a lot like the black and white fur on a giant panda’s face. Also notable is the skeletal appearance of the sea squirt’s tube-like body.

Sea squirts are marine animals that attach to the seafloor or some other type of substrate. They are filter feeders, which means they filter nutrients from the water that passes through their bodies.

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