Strange conditions in the murkiest depths of the ocean have led to the evolution of weird-looking animals that sometimes look like dicks but are, impressively, able to thrive in uniquely severe environments. One of the oddest and most inhospitable of these habitats is the area surrounding underwater volcanoes known as black smokers, which spew forth hot jets of chemicals from the Earth’s mantle that can reach temperatures of 650º-750º Fahrenheit. Scientists know that some hardy organisms rely on these chemical feasts to thrive, but they only recently realized that the searing heat from those vents might be crucial to their survival as well.

In a paper published Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports, an international team of scientists led by Pelayo Salinas-de-León, Ph.D. report an especially unusual discovery: that Pacific white skates (Bathyraja spinosissima), relatives of sharks that grow to have a wingspan of up to five feet, lay their eggs around hydrothermal vents in the Iguanas-Pinguinos vent field, about one mile below the sea just north of the Galápagos Islands.

Pacific white skates can live up to 10,000 feet below the surface of the sea.

While the fossil record has shown that dinosaurs laid eggs in volcanic soil, just like the still-living megapode, a ground-dwelling bird that lays its eggs in mounds of heat-generating, decomposing matter in Asia and Australia, this report marks the first time anyone has observed this behavior in a marine animal.

Scientists found egg cases between three feet and 450 feet from hydrothermal vents.

Pacific white skates are wide, flat fish that can live up to 10,000 feet below the surface of the ocean. What makes this species especially unique is that their eggs take a really long time to hatch: Researchers estimate that these eggs incubate for 1,500 days — more than four years. Laying the eggs around these deep-sea vents, the researchers hypothesize, could help shorten the time it takes for the eggs to hatch.

This image, taken from the ROV's POV, shows skate eggs around a hydrothermal chimney.

Since the hydrothermal vents of the Galápagos Marine Reserve are so deep underwater, the researchers had to use a remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) to explore what life could thrived there. Using the camera on the ROV, as well as a robotic arm that can gently manipulate objects, they observed the scene and collected four samples to confirm the species. In total, they found 157 egg cases, each about four inches long. Many of the cases were fresh, suggesting that the site was an active incubation area.

Deep-sea hydrothermal vents, known as black smokers, host a wide range of life, including skate eggs.

With the ROV’s camera, they also observed a bunch of older egg cases, indicating that skates had been laying their eggs around these vents for quite some time.

Even with the help of the hydrothermal vents, the water is still quite cold way down there — only a few degrees above freezing. So it makes sense that the skates are taking advantage of this environmental freebie.

Researchers collected four egg cases to confirm the species.

Aside from being a startlingly strange find, documenting this phenomenon could assist conservation efforts in the future, as these deep-sea hydrothermal vents could soon be under threat. While it seems like something a mile under the ocean should be safe from human hinderance, they’ve recently become a target for mining companies hoping to extract methane or harvest the geothermal energy.

“We hardly know anything about the deep sea, and we are fishing, and mining, before we even get a chance to even document what species live down there and what unique behaviors [they] could reveal [to] us,” Salinas-de-León told National Geographic in an interview this month. Perhaps learning that these vents not only host the crabs and worms that we already knew about but also serve as nurseries for these strange and beautiful skates will teach us to be a little more hesitant to decimate these habitats for our own gain.

Abstract: The discovery of deep-sea hydrothermal vents in 1977 challenged our views of ecosystem functioning and yet, the research conducted at these extreme and logistically challenging environments still continues to reveal unique biological processes. Here, we report for the first time, a unique behavior where the deep-sea skate, Bathyraja spinosissima, appears to be actively using the elevated temperature of a hydrothermal vent environment to naturally “incubate” developing egg-cases. We hypothesize that this behavior is directly targeted to accelerate embryo development time given that deep-sea skates have some of the longest egg incubation times reported for the animal kingdom. Similar egg incubating behavior, where eggs are incubated in volcanically heated nesting grounds, have been recorded in Cretaceous sauropod dinosaurs and the rare avian megapode. To our knowledge, this is the first time incubating behavior using a volcanic source is recorded for the marine environment.

Photos via Wikimedia, Ocean Exploration Trust, Ocean Exploration Trust: Julye Newlin, Salinas-de-León et al.

All dogs go to heaven, but some dogs get there a little earlier than others because of a quirk linked to their luscious locks. According to new research led by the University of Sydney, the life expectancy of Labrador retrievers is connected to the color of their coat. These good boys might come in black, yellow, and brown — but one of those pigments is more unfavorable than the rest.

Burger King’s Halloween-themed offering, “The Nightmare King,” sits atop an alarmingly green bun. It might look like the stuff of nightmares, but the company is taking the endeavor one step further, claiming this sandwich can actually cause spur bad dreams.

Ingredients in the Nightmare King burger might have some negative effects on your sleep, but scientists say that Halloween meal may cause nightmares for an entirely different reason, too.

Drivers need to be prepared for any road surface, rain or shine. There’s a number of key issues drivers need to be concerned with to avoid ending out in an uncontrollable situation.

Scott Mansell, professional driver and the founder of Driver61, spoke with Inverse to detail his top tips that he would relay to anyone on the road looking to get the most out of their driving experience.

At first, Dan Harrison didn’t think the idea would be taken seriously. But as situations become dire, crazy-sounding ideas can start to sound … pretty good. His plan is “cloud brightening,” and frankly, it reads like the premise of a sci-fi movie.

A geo-engineering concept that could literally change sunny skies to overcast ones sounds far-fetched, but to save the Great Barrier Reef, weather hacks like his may be required. It’s just one of the creative methods scientists are trying in order to save some of the world’s most sensitive and important living organisms.

Modern weather forecasts rely on complex computer simulators. These simulators use all the physics equations that describe the atmosphere, including the movement of air, the sun’s warmth, and the formation of clouds and rain.

Incremental improvements in forecasts over time mean that modern five-day weather forecasts are as skillful as three-day forecasts were 20 years ago.