Headless Chicken Monster Invades Antarctic

News Brief by Kip Hansen


featured-imageJust in time for Halloween, the New York Times (and at least a dozen other news outlets) carried the story:

‘Headless Chicken Monster’ Spotted in the Deep Sea

The news comes to us courtesy of the Australian Antarctic Division who captured images of the “headless chicken” using cameras deployed nearly 3000 meters below the surface of the Southern Ocean.

What exactly is a “headless chicken monster” when it gets up in the morning?  It is a swimming sea cucumber, sometimes called ‘the Spanish dancer’ and its scientific name is Enypniastes eximia.  Previously only filmed in the Gulf of Mexico, its discovery near Antarctica could help scientists understand the species’ distribution, and how it might be affected by climate change. [Boy, I bet you saw that coming — the science guys at the NY Times are required to get a climate change hook in every story if at all possible.]

Here’s a better look at The Monster:


At least, there is no claim that this really cool swimming sea cucumber is endangered by climate change, at least not yet.

Other sea cucumbers — most of them — look a bit more like a cucumber:


“Sea cucumbers are found on the sea floor worldwide. The number of holothurian  species worldwide is about 1,717 with the greatest number being in the Asia Pacific region. Many of these are gathered for human consumption and some species are cultivated in aquaculture systems. “ [Wiki] I have found them to be common in the tropical waters of the Caribbean.  While living for a couple of years in Luperon, Dominican Republic, we were surprised to find that sleepy little fishing village had a thriving sea cucumber fishery and a “drying plant” where the sea cucumbers were dried before being shipped to Asia.  Because of their popularity as a food item in Asia, many species are now suffering from over-fishing.

This over-fishing can have serious side effects, such as those found by my Nils-Axel Mörner and Pamela Matlack-Klein in Fiji.  Mörner found that the beach erosion of the “ shore of Yageta Village has been heavily eroded over the past ten years. This has nothing to do with sea level changes, but is the effect of the removal of thousands of sea cucumbers…”.  As the sea cucumbers slowly move over the sandy bottom, they take in the sand, digesting organic matter, and expelling the sand again, with a sticky coating that helps to hold it together and helps prevent erosion by wave motion.

Fear not, the headless chicken monster, Enypniastes eximia, is not among those coveted by the Chinese as a delicacy, so is safe, so far, from extinction-by-food-fad.

Despite my many hours spent underwater in the Northern Caribbean, I have never seen the monster.  I have seen many sea cucumbers though and they are curious beasts.

Nature never ceases to amaze.

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Author’s Comment Policy:

 Always happy to read your comments — if you have interesting stories to share about sea cucumbers I’d love to read them.  If that is too restrictive, I’ll take any and all of your scuba and snorkeling stories too.

One of mine:  When I finally convinced my wife to see a doctor about the eight inch long, quarter inch high bright red welt on her forearm, the doctor, who was from Cincinnati or some such boring place, exclaimed — “Oh, that is so cool!  Can a take a picture?”  which he proceeded to do and then sent it off by email to all his doctor friends in the U.S. — he was so excited that it took a half hour to get him to consider the possible cause and recommend a treatment.  Cause:  a free floating Fire Coral larvae — sticking on her arm, which she brushed with her gloved hand smearing it along an eight inch path.  Treatment — hydrocortisone cream and weeks to heal.

Thanks for reading.

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59 thoughts on “Headless Chicken Monster Invades Antarctic

    • John ==> The explanation for the name “headless chicken monster” goes like this: Many photos make it look like a plucked chicken, just ready for the oven — in the photo above, the little wingy things at the top end could be taken as the chickens plucked wings….”

      The name for this is “pareidolia” — “the tendency to perceive a specific, often meaningful image in a random or ambiguous visual pattern.”.

  1. How is it that climate change explains everything? People are really good at inventing explanations. Most of what passes for rational thought is actually confabulation. If someone thinks climate change explains everything, in spite of evidence to the contrary, they will find a way to twist things so they can ignore the evidence.

    … in a study on choice blindness (Johansson et al., 2005; Hall et al., 2010), participants were shown a pair of objects and asked to select the one they preferred. The selected object was then switched for the other one using a magic trick, so that this switch wasn’t noticed; participants then defended their “choice” by confabulating reasons why the switched object was superior to the originally selected one. link

    The logical thing would be to examine the switched object and declare that the original choice might have been wrong. The vast majority of people, not realizing that the object was switched, would rather invent an excuse than admit to an error in judgement.

    Getting out of the habit of inventing crap to explain everything is really hard. Zen monks meditate for years in an attempt to do so. link

    • Climate “Scientists” should collectively be nominated for the next Nobel Prizes (yes, multiple prizes!) for their Theory of Everything. E.g. prizes for peace, medicine, physics, literature, etc.

    • “God’s will” used to do the trick. It was great to have the power of the church behind you, and when the state was religious, the state could crush your enemies too. Point your finger and accuse, “heretic”! The more devout have more power, or so they hope. Faith replaces the need for evidence, but when everything is God’s will, then anything will do. The best and the worst, all God’s will. Reasons can always be found, but even when they aren’t, the lowly mortal simply can’t understand. How do you prove or disprove the existence of God?
      The same thing happened in art and architecture 100 years ago. The Bauhaus movement used a similar concept to market itself. Some was innovative and interesting, other Bauhaus production was pure junk, including whole buildings. Bauhaus was modern, and people wanted to be modern. If they wanted to show how modern they were, they would buy Bauhaus. If they didn’t actually like it, that was just because they didn’t understand it. Artists and architects all saw what was happening, and many joined in the game. How do you prove something is beautiful?
      In the climate science game, you can claim any weather or system impacted by weather is affected by climate change. Say anything you want, because it will take 30 years before your statement can begin to be shown false. Long before then, the statements and predictions change, and the clock starts over. Who remembers what was said 30 years ago? Oh, but we’ve learned so much more since then. Really? They take advantage of the fact we have relatively short lives compared to the weather cycles and cosmic cycles that actually impact climate. When claims are fundamentally untestable, you have less science and more religion, especially when actions are based on the untested claims.
      Because God => because climate.

    • MJSnyder ==> Exceptionally Good Eye, Sir! (that curly font made it hard to see the spelling error!).

      Fixed the image 10:15 Eastern Time.

  2. At my place in Northern Virginia, on the shore of the Occoquan River, we have more modest wildlife: river turnips.

    • Michael ==> A search for “river turnip” doesn’t turn up anything for me….can you give us more on that? Scientific name?

    • The Occoquan River is a tributary of the Potomac River in Northern Virginia, originally called the Occoquan Creek ….. but no mention of a “river turnip”.

      Local names for the flora and fauna are of no help to “outsiders”.

    • Chicken of the Sea already has a Wikipedia page. It’ll have to settle for something else. Suggestions welcome.

      • Sea cucumbers taste awful. They are on the menus here in Beijing. In fact they taste like they look. How’s that for communication?

        • A lot of Chinese ‘delicacies’ are just stuff that their subordinate or customer hasn’t seen before and being too embarrassed to say anything indiscreet. Shark fin soup is touted as wonderful but is terrible

        • Chinese will eat anything. I wonder if there are even any conch left in their waters, because they taste delicious and are also too easy to catch thus overfished.

          • I recall some friends who traveled extensively telling me various alleged Chinese proverbs such as “If it moves on land and isn’t a tank, then you can eat it.” But I don’t think their Chinese was very good so I’ll gladly learn different.

  3. [Boy, I bet you saw that coming — the science guys at the NY Times are required to get a climate change hook in every story if at all possible.]

    This is exactly what Dr Tim Ball said in a segment of Channel 4’s “The Great Global Warming Swindle”.

    If you want a grant to study the sex life of squirrels on Clapham Common, just add …. and how it is affected by global warming.

  4. “Previously only filmed in the Gulf of Mexico, its discovery near Antarctica could help scientists understand the species’ distribution, and how it might be affected by climate change. “
    Well, it’s SO obvious isn’t it? It was PREVIOUSLY (based on about two specimens) in the tropics but NOW due to Catastrophic Anthropogenic Climate Change, it has been forced to flee to Antarctica (based on one specimen) to find its optimum habitat temperature.
    I’ll happily accept the Nobel Prize for Climate Science for this stunning piece of deduction.

    • Ian Magness

      Panic over then.

      We have/had a Beluga whale happily swimming and feeding in the river Thames recently. I believe it’s normal habitat is much colder climes therefore, judging by the logic presented in this article, the world must be getting cooler.

  5. As a politically incorrect (good on him) Prince Phillip, in 1986, told a World Wildlife Fund meeting that “if it has got four legs and it is not a chair, if it has got two wings and flies but is not an aeroplane and if it swims and it is not a submarine, the Cantonese will eat it.”
    BTW, Prince Phillip withdrew from the WWF years ago because he didn’t agree with their obsession on Global Warming (as reported by the British journalist, Christopher Booker).

    • John of Cloverdale, WA, Australia

      But I believe he’s still a fully paid up member of the Club of Rome.

  6. Pity there isn’t any scale on the photo. What size is this thing – Sparrow, Pidgeon, Ostrich, even Chicken?

    • oldseadog ==> The sea cucumber ranges in size from 11 to 25 centimeters (4.3 to 9.8 in). I have seen and handled cucumber-shaped sea cucumbers up to a foot in length in the Northern Caribbean. So, chicken-sized.

  7. If I remember my biology right:
    The Sea Cucumber is a vertebrate!
    Complete with a spinal column and a (primitive) backbone.
    Most people looking at the critter might assume it is lower level, along with jellyfish or something like that.

    In truth, on the evolutionary scale, it is above the sharks.
    {Sharks do not have spinal columns, they have notochords}

      • TonyL,
        To elaborate on Kip’s point, sea cucumbers are not vertebrates. They are a branch of the Echinodermata – a group of marine animals whose most well-known families are sea urchins, starfish (both of which found well back in the fossil record) and sea lilies (fossil equivalents being crinoids). Echinoderms may have sensory cells and/or some kind of nerve system but they don’t have brains. Consequently, suggesting they are “above the sharks” is probably a little unfair on the latter.

      • I know they are echinoderms, same group as starfish and sand dollars. The claim to fame of the echinoderms is radial symmetry. For these critters, the symmetry is said to be internal, as opposed to external like the others.
        Of course it would be bizarre to classify such a creature as a vertebrate.
        Nonetheless, it is passing strange that an invertebrate should have a spinal chord.
        My point was that this critter is a biological oddity and one strange mash-up of evolutionary traits.
        Zoology students are alternately amused, confounded, and horrified when contemplating this little fellow.

  8. The Tuatara is the last dinosaur on Earth (except for AGW climate peeps). It has a third eye. It’s a member of the Sphenodontia.

    If we give the CAGWers a third eye, will that make them able to see reality more clearly? Just askin’ out of curiosity.

    • Sara,
      To be strictly accurate, the dinosaurs split off from other early reptiles during the Triassic period. Tuatara is a reptile not a dinosaur. The “last dinosaurs on Earth” are called “birds”, unless, of course and as you note, they are “AGW supporters”. 🙂

  9. I graduated from the University of South Carolina. Our mascot is the Fighting Gamecock. I wonder if I could convince the University to change the mascot to the headless chicken. It would be a most interesting mascot.

  10. Typical NYT reader comment
    Greg Kraus
    NYCOct. 24
    I foresee extinction in 10 years along with most other marine life

    Someone’s been listening to the utter nonsense of Dr J Gill 😀

  11. The gullibility of NYT subscribers is unprecedented, scary, historic, and record breaking all at the same time.

  12. Hasn’t the headless chicken monster been spotted at every international meeting on climate change, and always ‘even worse than thought’ (tm Climate Doomsaying Industry)?

    • John B ==> More correctly, I think that is the “Headless Little Chicken Monster” — known by its distinctive cry “theskyisfalling!”

  13. That’s not the headless chicken monster – why it’s – it’s – MANBEARPIG in disguise! Run for your lives!

  14. Gotta watch those Fire Coral! If they dry out on the deck of the coracle they will become pyrophoric and explode…

    /sarc (literary reference)

  15. I saw a mermaid once….

    Working on a submarine, we were docked in Port Canaveral.
    Returning aboard, I noticed there were divers over the side.
    Being naturally curious, I went to look over the side but couldn’t see anything.
    All that was visible were the light bubbles coming up from the divers.
    The water there was pretty green.
    As I stood watching, a manatee came swimming along the side.
    When it reached the location of the divers the gentle bubbles became
    a roiling cauldron.

    I reckon he was curious about the divers as well.

    • JimG ==> Manatees are very strange animals — but have trouble fitting in to the faster modern world. They are unable to react to oncoming motorboats and regularly get cut up but spinning props. Florida has a lot of protections in place for them. Any warming or coastal waters would be good for them.

      One would have to had been at sea for a long long time to look at one and see a lovely mermaid…..

    • crosspatch ==> It worked too! An amazing number of news stories resulted from the press release — editors just couldn’t resist a name like “The Headless Chicken Monster”. Neither could I!

  16. Epilogue:

    Gotta love a science news piece that touts a Headless Chicken Monster! Like a hundred or so other news editors, I couldn’t resist the temptation to write about it.

    I think I would have skipped it if it didn’t turn out to be a type of Sea Cucumber, though. I have fond memories of sea cucumbers from our recent 12 years in the Caribbean where several different species are found. Odd creatures they are.

    I’m grateful for those of you who shared your humor and had a bit of fun with this story….it was meant to be lighthearted.

    Marine biologists are only now even beginning to understand the complexity and diversity of marine lifeforms. What lives where is still a very open question — mostly unanswered as yet. The deeper we are able to send observers or cameras, the more we are astonished and surprised. I’m glad to be alive during this time — I love new things.

    Thanks for contributing — thanks for reading.

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  17. found my Nils-Axel Mörner and Pamela Matlack-Klein –>

    found -by- Nils-Axel Mörner and Pamela Matlack-Klein

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