First Clear View of a One-Celled Harpooner in Action

Apr 5, 2017

By James Gorman

Humans did not invent the harpoon gun. Some sea snails and jellyfish shoot darts at prey. And one single-celled predator even fires a projectile with a line attached so it can tow its prize away.

Scientists working at the University of British Columbia reported Friday that they had captured the first high-resolution video of this microscopic harpooner in action. Although it is tempting to call it Ishmael, its real name is Polykrikos kofoidii.

The video may lack the literary depth of “Moby Dick,” but it is strong on action, and Polykrikos is arguably better armed than any whaleboat launched from Captain Ahab’s Pequod.

For example, it fires a projectile that has several working parts. First is an initial dart, called a taeniocyst.

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