Georgian Speekle - A Giant Isopod

Is the Georgian Speekle a Real Animal?

The Geogian speekle is an extremely large isopod, which is a type of aquatic crustacean.
The Geogian speekle is an extremely large isopod, which is a type of aquatic crustacean. DigiPub / Getty Images

The "Georgian speekle" is the name given to a giant isopod that was found in the state of Georgia in the United States. Photos of the monstrous-looking creature went viral on the internet, leading to comments like "Fake!" and "Photoshop". However, the animal really does exist and yes, it really is over a foot long.

Is an Isopod a Bug?

No, the Georgian speekle is not an insect or a bug. One defining characteristic of an insect is that it has six legs.

The speekle has many more than six appendages. A bug, on the other hand, belongs to the order Hemiptera and mostly resembles an insect, except it has hardened wings and sucking and piercing mouthparts. The speekle is a type of isopod. Isopods don't have wings, nor do they bite like bugs. While insects, bugs, and isopods are all types of arthropods, they are in separate groups. An isopod is a type of crustacean, related to crabs and lobsters. Its closest land relatives are pill bugs or the common woodlouse. Of the 20 or so species of isopods, the largest is the giant isopod Bathynomus giganteus.

How Big Is the Giant Isopod?

While B. giganteus is an example of marine gigantism, it's not particularly huge. It's not on the order of, say, a giant squid. A typical isopod is around 5 centimeters long (about 2 inches). An adult B. giganteus can be 17 to 50 centimeters (6.7 to 19.7 inches) long. While that's large enough to look scary, the isopod doesn't pose a threat to people or pets.

Giant Isopod Facts

B. giganteus lives in deep water, off the coast of Georgia (USA) to Brazil in the Atlantic, including the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. Three other species of giant isopods are found in the Indo-Pacific, but none have been found in the East Pacific or East Atlantic. Because its habitat is largely unexplored, additional species may await discovery.

Like other types of arthropods, isopods molt their chitin exoskeletons as they grow. They reproduce by laying eggs. Like other crustaceans, they have blue "blood", which is really their circulatory fluid. The hemolymph is blue because it contains the copper-based pigment hemocyanin. Most photographs of isopods show them as gray or brown, but sometimes a sick animal appears blue.

Although they look intimidating, isopods aren't aggressive predators. Rather, they are opportunistic scavengers, mostly living on decaying organisms in the sea's benthic zone. They have been observed eating carrion, as well as small fish and sponges. They use their four sets of jars to tear apart their food.

Isopods have compound eyes that have over 4000 facets. Like cat eyes, isopod eyes feature a reflective layer at the back that reflects back light (the tapetum). This enhances their vision under dim conditions and also makes the eyes reflective if a light is shined on them. However, it's dark in the depths, so isopods probably don't rely much on sight. Like shrimp, they use their antennae to explore their environment. The antennae house chemoreceptors which can be used to smell and taste molecules around them.

Female isopods have a pouch called a marsupium that holds eggs until they are ready to hatch. Males have appendages called peenies and masculinae used transfer sperm to the female after she molts (when her shell is soft). Isopods have the largest eggs of any marine invertebrate, measuring about a centimeter or half an inch in length. Females bury themselves in sediment when they are brooding and stop eating. The eggs hatch into animals that look like their parents, except smaller and missing the last pair of legs. They gain the final appendages after they grow and molt.

In addition to crawling along in the sediment, isopods are skillful swimmers. They can swim either right-side up or upside-down.

Isopods in Captivity

A few giant isopods have been kept in captivity. One specimen became famous because it wouldn't eat.

This isopod appeared healthy, yet refused food for five years. It eventually died, but it's unclear whether starvation is what killed it. Because isopods live on the sea floor, they can go a very long time before encountering a meal. Giant isopods at the Aquarium of the Pacific are fed dead mackerel. These isopods tend to eat four to ten times a year. When they eat, they gorge themselves to the point where they have trouble moving.

Although the animals aren't aggressive, they do bite. Handlers wear gloves when working with them.

Like pillbugs, giant isopods curl up into a ball when threatened. This helps protective their vulnerable internal organs from attack.

References

Lowry, J. K. and Dempsey, K. (2006). The giant deep-sea scavenger genus Bathynomus (Crustacea, Isopoda, Cirolanidae) in the Indo-West Pacific. In: Richer de Forges, B. and Justone, J.-L. (eds.), Résultats des Compagnes Musortom, vol. 24. Mémoires du Muséum National d’Histoire Naturalle, Tome 193: 163–192.

Gallagher, Jack (2013-02-26). "Aquarium's deep-sea isopod hasn't eaten for over four years". The Japan Times. retrieved 02/17/2017

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Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "Georgian Speekle - A Giant Isopod." ThoughtCo, Mar. 7, 2017, thoughtco.com/georgian-speekle-a-giant-isopod-4128820. Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. (2017, March 7). Georgian Speekle - A Giant Isopod. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/georgian-speekle-a-giant-isopod-4128820 Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "Georgian Speekle - A Giant Isopod." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/georgian-speekle-a-giant-isopod-4128820 (accessed December 15, 2017).