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Is This A Living Rock With Organs? – The P. Chilensis Is Also A Delicacy

Ladies and gentlemen, meet P. chilensis, the ‘rock’ organism that appears to be sheltering ‘organs’ in its midst. It can literally have sex with its own self, is eaten by people of Chile and Peru, and contains high levels of vanadium in its blood.
Credit Arvid Puschnig 1

Photo credit: Arvid Puschnig

So much of the ocean is hidden from us – fantastic creatures, deep-sea monsters, perhaps, even mermaids? Life thriving under our seas is riddled with mystery, and the unknown is undoubtedly exciting. The adrenaline rush associated with those creatures forming part of the richness of our blue waters is, however, not restricted to feelings of excitement, but also to horror, fear, and maybe even disgust. One such living organism is the marine filter feeder known as Pyura chilensis.

Pyura chilensis, having no brain itself (and no sensory organs for that matter), is sure to blow your mind away. Related to sea squirts, it looks somewhat like sea urchins, though not associated to the latter along the evolution ladder. Its appearance is enough to make you throw up your entire meal. On the exterior, it looks like a rock. But, on the inside, a bizarre sight awaits: “organs”, as if, enclosed inside a rock. Oh, and what might sound worse to those not acquainted with the organism is that it is a delicacy in certain countries.
P.chilensis 2
Photo credits: Arvid Puschnig

P. chilensis can be found in the intertidal zones of Chile and Peru, whose people are known to feast on the marine creature.
P. chilensis 3
Bon appetit! Photo credits: sergio.majluf via wikimedia commons

Keeping up with its weird nature, the P. chilensis is a hermaphrodite: it has both sexes. It is born male and once it hits a certain maturity level, it turns into a creature accommodating both sexual apparatuses. So, if one individual of the group does not find a mate, it can impregnate himself! I mean, herself. Oh well.

Cross fertilisation is more common, but offspring stemming from self-fertilisation has been observed to be equally successful.

P. chilensis has another surprise in store. Its blood has an extremely high concentration of heavy metal vanadium: levels millions of times greater than their environment (the sea-water). Vanadium is toxic to other organisms, but not so for P. chilensis. Now, question is, is the presence of the heavy metal harmful to humans consuming the organism? It is still unclear as to the related implications, just as the purpose of the metal is not yet known.


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