Little Mermaid’s umbrella turns up in the Andamans

By Hasathi Bhagavatula, B.Sc Blended, Class of 2022


A biology enthusiast named Felix was vacationing in the Andaman Islands of India, when he accidentally spotted a peculiar-looking plant. On further inspection, he realized it looked similar to an algal species he studied before but something about it was…enthralling.

It was brought back to laboratories for further investigation and after 18 months of pondering and head-scratching, it was concluded to be a new species of algae. The last alga discovered here was 37 years ago!

Acetabularia plant

The amazing ‘accidental’ Acetabularia

The DNA of this new species was sequenced and the scientists found that it belonged to the genus Acetabularia from the Polyphysaceae family. The intricate details and patterns on the alga, however, gave it a rather interesting appearance. The scientists said the alga reminded them of the fictional tale of the Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Anderson. As this algal species was discovered in India, they decided to call it Acetabularia jalakanyakae because “jalakanya” in Sanskrit means…no prizes for guessing…mermaid!

What’s fascinating

The most intriguing feature of this species is that this alga is made up of one, humongous cell with a massive nucleus. Owing to this cool characteristic, this species is now considered a model organism as this cell can be studied without fancy microscopes. The alga attaches itself to rocks with the help of a structure called ‘Rhizoid’.

“Little Mermaid’s umbrella”, unlike ours, has a regenerative potential. Acetabularia can regrow parts of themselves, should they be cut-off for any reason.

Why you should care

Algae are just as important as terrestrial green plants because they greatly contribute to oxygen production, maintaining the integrity of food chains, petroleum production and a lot more. Species belonging to Acetabularia have large deposits of calcium carbonate. Sadly, the rising ocean temperatures and acidification are threatening these tiny organisms.

The Andaman Islands are home to some of the last remaining healthy corals and algae in the whole world and it is vital that we protect these. I mean come on, they’re so cute! I don’t see why anyone would not want to care for these little guys.