I was living in Africa the first time I saw a pyrosome, and I nearly cried. I was doing research on plankton, which meant long days staring down a microscope plucking through tiny dead things. And then there it was. I actually gasped in recognition. My first real life pyrosome. Among many marine-inclined folks such as moi, pyrosomes are like unicorns. Completely improbable, utterly mysterious. And why?

For starters: if the Borg and the Clone Wars had a baby it would be a pyrosome. One long pyrosomes is actually a collection of thousands of clones, with each individual capable of copying itself and adding to the colony. And unlike members of the Borg, which are mentally connected, pyrosome members are physically connected– actually sharing tissues. And while the Borg live in a big scary ship, pyrosomes are the big scary ship. The whole colony is shaped like a giant thimble with a point on one end and an opening on the other, and in some species this opening can be up to 6 feet (2 meters) wide– large enough to fit a full grown human inside . Under normal circumstances, this sort of thing would scare the crap out of me.

But the pyrosome I found was cute. No larger than a jellybean. As I looked closer, I realized I could see right through it. Right into the guts. Each little “wire basket” is the stomach of one member of the colony. They take water in through a mouth on the outside of their space-ship body, pass it through the little basket to filter out the nom bits, and squirt water out the other end, into the big hollow space in the middle. Pyrosomes look terrifying, but like many giants of the sea, they’re actually filter feeders.