MOSCOW, Feb. 5 (UPI) -- Researchers in Russia have discovered a new species of luminous polyps in the Red Sea. The fluorescent sea creatures form small colonies on the shells of Nassarius margaritifer, a species of sea snail.
The polyps put out green "fluorescent lanterns" across the shell of the marine gastropod mollusk.
Researchers say the new species looks very similar to flourescent polyps found in fresh water known as hydrae. But the two types of glow-in-the-dark polyps are only distantly related.
"Sea hydroids, unlike hydrae, are often found in colonies and can branch off tiny jellyfish," Vyacheslav Ivanenko, a researcher at Lomonosov Moscow State University, said in a news release. "The unusual green glow of these hydrozoas -- presumably, a new species of the genus Cytaeis, whose body length reaches 1.5 mm -- was revealed in the peristomal area of the body".
Though researchers aren't yet able to confirm or name the newly discovered species -- described in the journal PLOS ONE -- they say their work will improve future hydroid classification. Ivanenko and his colleagues say differentiating between where fluorescence originates in the body of the various polyps can help distinguish one species from another.
"Species identification of hydroid colonies remains problematic, and species-specific fluorescence patterns may be a useful diagnostic tool in field identification and taxonomy," researchers wrote in the new paper.