‘Zombie Worms’ Fossil
October 31, 2011 by staff
Osedax worms feed on the carcasses of whales in the sea as a result of using tissue-piercing and dissolve the bones.
Scientists at the Natural History Museum of London identified revealing holes in the fossil using a scanner.
The discovery suggests that the worms were much more widespread in all oceans prehistoric thought.
The results lead scientist Nicholas Higgs and colleagues was published in the journal Historical Biology.
The only other evidence of Osedax worms in the fossil record was found on the coast of Washington, USA, last year.
Mr. Higgs, a doctoral student at the University of Leeds, was investigating Osedax worms for his studies with scientists from the Natural History Museum in London and contacted with the staff of the University of Florence, Museum of Natural History Italy.
Staff had found a fossil of a whale fossil surrounded by other organisms suggesting an ecosystem had developed around the case.
These “whale falls’ provide ideal conditions for bone eating worms for Mr. Higgs traveled to Italy to investigate the fossils.
“We did not find any [trace] that particular whale skeleton … but I spent a week there looking through all their collections and finally found this bone dust in a box,” said Mr. Higgs BBC Nature.
“This bone had gathered in 1875 for what had been in the collection of ages just gathering dust. There was a very good specimen of whale, so I never really went out on screen,” he said, explaining that they are more pristine examples often sought for identification.
But the damage to the bone was familiar with Mr. Higgs and back in London, his suspicions were confirmed by the Natural History Museum of micro-CT scanner to investigate the fossils in detail.
“The fossils of worms are very rare. Do not know much about their fossil record because they are stuffed animals,” he said.
“However, because these particular worms drilling license feature, we can trace.”
Osedax worm has no mouth or gut, but invade the bones with fleshy root tissues to extract nutrients, earning them the “zombie” nickname.
Leaving the bones wore distinctive bulb-shaped cavities that are not made by any other species.
This group of worms were first discovered in 2004 and have been recorded in the Pacific and Atlantic, but not in the Mediterranean.
Bone eating snot-worm with descriptive names flower (Osedax mucofloris) was discovered off the coast of Sweden, also by scientists at the Natural History Museum in London.
However, surveys conducted by this species differ in shape from those found in fossils.
Instead of just the same species in a different place, Mr. Higgs suggests there may be a yet unidentified species of Osedax life in the Mediterranean that evolved from animals that left the fossilized footprints.
“It’s just a matter of looking … but not very often you come across a dead whale at the bottom of the sea,” he said.
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