Sea anemones sit on rocks, gently waving their tentacles back and forth, catching floating prey like larvae, plankton and… ants? A team of US-based researchers used a method called ‘DNA metabarcoding’ to identify the gut contents of 12 giant plumose anemones ( Metridium farcimen ). They found that the anemones ate a lot of crab and barnacle larvae, small crustaceans called copepods and, surprisingly, insects. The scientists first extracted genetic material from partially digested food in the anemones’ guts, then compared this information to DNA databases of various organisms. This method allowed them to accurately analyse what species the anemones had been eating, and they were also able to identify rare or degraded prey items. “We’ve greatly expanded the list of things we know that they eat. They’re eating whatever they can catch, whatever isn’t too big or too small, whatever can’t swim away,” said first author Dr Christopher Wells, a postdoctoral researcher in the University at Buffalo. “One of the most surprising results is that in addition to all the usual suspects you’d find in marine plankton, we also found that a part of the diet – about 10 per cent at the time of the study – […]

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