Biology:Thetys vagina

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Short description: Species of marine filter-feeder

Thetys vagina
Salpa vagina, Tilesius, 1802 - Museum fur Naturkunde, Berlin - DSC00131.JPG
Thetys vagina (Salpa vagina)
Scientific classification

Tilesius, 1802
T. vagina
Binomial name
Thetys vagina
Tilesius, 1802

Thetys costata (Quoy & Gaimard, 1825)
Thetys tilesii (Cuvier, 1804)

Thetys vagina, or the Twin sailed Salp, is the largest known solitary species of salp and the only valid species of the genus Thetys.  First described by W.G Tilesius in 1802, the species is transparent and gelatinous, making it difficult to be seen in water, which is helpful in avoiding predators.[1][2][3] The fossil range is very recent.[4] Other animals often mistaken for T. vagina are Salpa fusiformis, Aurelia aurita, and Pegea confoederata. There is no known status of conservation in this species. T. vagina DNA was sequenced as part of a larger project in 2014 where spiny lobster larvae were found attached to T. vagina and consuming it.[5]


T. vagina can reach up to 333 mm (13 in) long.[6] They develop into two distinct forms; the aggregate generation and the solitary generation. The aggregated sexual blastozooids (aggregate form) can get to the size of 250 mm and has five muscle bands.  The solitary asexual oozooids (solitary form) can get to size of 300 mm.[7] Vaginas of this form have around 20 muscle bands, which are characterized as “striped” with two short dark-colored tentacles at their ends, attached at the upper and lower halves of the body.[8]  Both the aggregate and the solitary forms have tests covered in ridges and grooves. They have a colored digestive system seen as a dark or colorful lump.[8] The embryos have been found to be between 10-15 mm.[9]


T. vagina is found in pelagic marine environments.[4] It occurs in tropical and temperate waters of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Ocean and is occasionally found in colder waters in the northern Atlantic, likely following warm water currents.[9][6][7] The species is widespread but at low density (although they may occasionally be found at very high density), resulting in only rare accounts of it being caught.[7]

T. vagina has been found off the central coast of British Columbia, marking its north-most occurrence to date.[3] It has been found by cataloging volunteers along the West Coast of the U.S. and reportedly congests nets of fisherman off the coast of northern Honshu and southern Hokkaido, Japan.[7]  In January 2009, the largest measured biomass of T. vagina was recorded at 852 g WW m−3 in the Tasman sea.[10]  

T. vagina stays in the photic zone and is often found in places of high chlorophyll concentration, likely due to its phytoplankton rich diet.[7] A large increase of T. vagina is associated with an increase in phytoplankton.[7] The ecology of this species is not fully understood.[7]


Like other salps, T. vagina feeds by consuming plankton nutrient water on one end of its body, filtering it via an internal net made of mucus, and spewing the water out the other end.[3] Their internal net is very effective, catching particles spanning four magnitudes in size.[8] This action also allows them to move through the water column, classifying them as nektonic. T. vagina  feeds on marine plankton, including single-celled organisms such as dinoflagellates, silicoflagellates, diatoms, and tintinnids, as well as copepods and other small particles.[7] Continuing up the food chain, T. vagina is preyed upon by medusae, siphonophores, ctenophores, heteropods, sea turtles, late stage larvae of the spiny lobster, marine birds, along with various species of fish.[7] They have a high energy content at (11.00 kJ g−1 DW).[10]

In a study done in the Japan Sea in 2006, the gut contents of T. vagina where evaluated.[7]  The diatom Coscinodiscus spp. (13–55 µm in diameter) was found to be the major makeup of the guts, with the diatom Coscinodiscus wailesii (219–313 µm) being the second most prevalent.[7] Another study off the coast of Maine found T. vagina gut content to be mainly made up of two dinoflagellates; Prorocentrummicans and Dinophysis norvegica. The study also found T. vagina to be an indiscriminate feeder over a broad size spectrum.[9]  


Waste from T. vagina is densely packed, sinks quickly, and is full of carbon. Their carcasses also sink quickly and are carbon rich (31% dry weight, DW).[10] This makes them efficient carbon sinks, but also harder to study. This carbon exchange could be responsible for up to 67% of the mean organic daily carbon flux in the area.[10] In 2007 and 2009, the Tasman sea floor was analyzed from 200m to 2500m in depth and large quantities of T. vagina were found. The quantities found were some of the largest gelatinous zooplankton depositions ever recorded.[10] Further, benthic communities were found consuming T. vagina carcasses.[10] This sink provides nutrients to these benthic communities and are likely a large source of carbon input.[10]


The generic name of Thetys refers to Tethys or Thetis, Greek mythological figures.[11][12] The former being the mother of river gods and the Oceanids, and the latter being the goddess of water, a nereid, or a sea nymph. The species epithet is Latin vagina and means "sheath" or "scabbard."[12][11] At the time of Tilesius' naming, the term had not acquired the modern-day anatomical meaning and had referred solely to a sheath, likely referring to its appearance.[11]


  1. "Zweiunddreißigster Abschnitt Von der Ostküste Südamerikas nach Südafrika oder dem Indischen Ozean", Segelhandbuch für den Atlantischen Ozean (DE GRUYTER), 2015-11-13, doi:10.1515/9783111587325-033, ISBN 9783111587325 
  2. . doi:10.1575/1912/6746. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "D. Wrobel, C. Mills Pacific coast pelagic invertebrates. A guide to the common gelatinous animals. 108 p. Sea Challengers and Monterey Bay Aquarium, 1998. Price". Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom 78 (4): 1392. November 1998. doi:10.1017/s0025315400044660. ISSN 0025-3154. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 WoRMS Editorial Board (2017), "Taxonomy", World Register of Marine Species. Available from at VLIZ. Accessed yyyy-mm-dd, VLIZ, doi:10.14284/170,, retrieved 2019-04-09 
  5. O'Rorke, Richard; Lavery, Shane D.; Wang, Miao; Gallego, Ramón; Waite, Anya M.; Beckley, Lynnath E.; Thompson, Peter A.; Jeffs, Andrew G. (2014). Phyllosomata associated with large gelatinous zooplankton: hitching rides and stealing bites. OCLC 970006021. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 Sims, David W. (August 1996). "A Rare Record of the Salp, Thetys Vagina (Tunicata: Thaliacea) From Western Scottish Waters". Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom 76 (3): 833–834. doi:10.1017/s0025315400031519. ISSN 0025-3154. 
  7. 7.00 7.01 7.02 7.03 7.04 7.05 7.06 7.07 7.08 7.09 7.10 Iguchi, N. (2006). "Horizontal distribution of Thetys vagina Tilesius (Tunicata, Thaliacea) in the Japan Sea during spring 2004". Journal of Plankton Research 28 (6): 537–541. doi:10.1093/plankt/fbi138. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Yount, James L. (July 1954). The Taxonomy of the Salpidae (Tunicata) of the Central Pacific Ocean. ISSN 0030-8870. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 McAlice, B.J. (Jan 2019). "Occurrence of Thetys vagina Tilesius (Tunicata, Thaliacea) on the coast of Maine". Bulletin of Marine Science 39 (3): 717–718. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 10.6 Henschke, Natasha; Everett, Jason D.; Suthers, Iain M. (December 2016). "An observation of two oceanic salp swarms in the Tasman Sea: Thetys vagina and Cyclosalpa affinis". Marine Biodiversity Records 9 (1). doi:10.1186/s41200-016-0023-8. ISSN 1755-2672. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Heyden, Dylan. "The Thetys Vagina Might Be the Strangest Name for A Sea Creature Ever". 
  12. 12.0 12.1 Fretwell, Kelly (2018). "Twin-sailed salp • Thetys vagina" (in en). 

External links

Wikidata ☰ Q4921692 entry