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Images: Transparent Animal May Play Overlooked Role in the Ocean

Salps are transparent, tubular, jelly-like animals that live in all oceans but are seldom seen. This species, Salpa aspera, can multiply into extensive swarms when conditions are right. Feeding on microscopic plants, they remove significant quantities of organic (carbon-containing) material from upper ocean waters. The brown spot is the salp's stomach. (Photo by Laurence Madin, Wood Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Salps reproduce in two ways and have two adult forms: a solitary form, as in the photo above, and a linked form, seen here. In this species, Salpa aspera, the linked form is a chain that can contain nearly 100 individuals. The brown spots are the individual salps' stomachs. (Photo by Laurence Madin, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Salpa aspera forms large, periodic summer swarms in the northwest Atlantic Ocean between Massachusetts and North Carolina. Differently-shaded areas on this map show the locations and extent of salp swarms in each of two summers. Numbers 1-3, 4-5, and letters A-B indicate locations having dense salps in three additional summers. Some swarms covered more than 38,000 square miles of the ocean. Contour lines show bottom depths. (Map courtesy of Laurence Madin, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)