Source: The Irish Times
Author: Michael Viney
Lophelia pertusa has nothing to with Hamlet’s damsel in the river and is not, for that matter, even Latin. I was once dropped from a “bright” stream in school for my apparent lack of effort with that language, a lacuna (there you are) now sometimes regretted.
Curious about the meaning of the scientific name of a species, my quest is sometimes good for half a morning online. And while this name goes back, as so often, to Carl Linnaeus, who invented the two-name system of description using international Latin, Lophelia pertusa owes much to Greek.
The first word, it seems, blends lophos and helia to yield “a tuft of suns” – this for a deep-sea coral that lives in utter darkness. And pertusa, from the Latin, means “pierced with holes”, one way of seeing a colony of thousands of animals, each polyp fringed with 16 radiating tentacles, like a child’s drawing of a many-rayed sun.
Indeed, the polyps are often bright yellow, but can just as easily be creamy, pink or white. Rather than taking food from algae sheltering inside them, like the tropical corals near the ocean surface, they rely on snatching tiny organisms from passing currents or from the steady snowfall of particles from the busy life and death in sunlight far above.
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