One of the most fun things to discover in your net after a plankton haul is a sea elephant, or heteropod. Personally, I always think of Snuffleupagus when I see one.
These smile-inducing animals are marine snails were once united under the name Heteropoda (incidentally erected by the great French naturalist Jean-Babtiste Lamarck and now a genus name of spiders). However, they now go by the rather unlyrical name of Pterotracheoidea. There are less than 50 known species in the group, classified in three different families, and they are NOT particularly closely related to another more famous group of pelagic snails, the pteropods.
While he now specializes cephalopods, Mike Vecchione, IZ affiliated agency scientist with the National Systematics lab of the National Marine Fisheries Service, once studied these animals. He was recently at sea in the Gulf of Mexico and wound up encountering heteropods quite frequently. As a result, he wrote a blog piece about the animals, with more information about their biology and additional pictures.
by Allen G. Collins