Traces of "zombie worms" have been found in ancient fossil


01/11/2011

Traces of "zombie worms" eating bones have been found in ancient fossil from Italy age three million years, as the researchers reported. Worms Osedaks, polychaete genus belonging to the family siboglinid (Siboglinidae), are known to inhabit the seabed in the skeletons of whales, dissolving and removing the bones of these nutrients by symbiotic bacteria. The genus name is Latin meaning "eater of bones."

Scientists from the Natural History Museum in London were able to identify in the fossil traces in the form of small holes, using a scanner. The discovery suggests that the worms have been more widespread in prehistoric oceans than previously anticipated. Details of the principal investigator Nicholas Higgs (Nicholas Higgs) and his colleagues have been published in the journal "Historical Biology".

The only evidence of the existence of worms in Osedaks prehistoric period until now was considered a fossil discovered in the past year on the shores of Washington, in the United States. The study was part of the worm research Higgs future PhD, who worked together with the staff of the Museum of Natural History in Florence, Italy. Museum staff previously discovered fossil whale, surrounded by a variety of fossilized organisms, which is the proof of the ecosystem that has developed around the skeleton of the dead animal.

These "remains of whales" were to provide an ideal environment for the worms that eat the bones, so Mr. Higgs and his colleagues went to Italy to study this fossil. "We found no trace of worms in this particular whale skeleton, but I spent the whole week watching the entire collection of the museum and, ultimately, found in a dusty box one bone with evidence of habitation in it once Osedaks worms" - said Mr. Higgs agency BBC Nature.

"This bone has been added to the museum in 1875 as a way for ages, it just gathering dust in a drawer. This was not the best example of the remains of the whale, so he was never exposed to the show visitors," - he said, explaining that the primitive fossil specimens animals often seek only to carry identification.

But the damage to the bones, which made it unsuitable for the show, were familiar to Mr. Higgs, and in London, his suspicions were confirmed by micro-CT scanner Museum of Natural History, intended for a detailed study of fossils.

"Fossil Osedaks worms are really rare. Few cases of detection of known fossils of these worms in the history of paleontology, as they are soft-bodied organisms" - he said. "But because these particular worms leave characteristic of their holes, we can sometimes find them on the trail."

In worms Osedaks no mouth and intestines, they cling to their bones soft branched limbs, extracting, so all the nutrients for which he received the nickname of "zombies." They are "drilled" bones, leaving a cavity in the form of distinct bulbs, which is not typical for any other species of living organisms. This group of worms was first discovered in 2004, and their presence has been reported in the world and the Atlantic Oceans and the Mediterranean were no signs of life.

Described by scientists as a worm eating a bone or flower covered with mucus (Osedax mucofloris), it has also been found on the bank of Sweden, scientists from the Natural History Museum of London. Nevertheless, the holes made this kind differ in form from those which have been found in fossil. Higgs researcher suggests that it may be as yet unidentified species Osedaks, who lives in the Mediterranean, which has evolved through the fossil record of marine animals. "It’s easy enough to figure out, but you can often find a dead whale on the sea floor" - he added.

Original: BBC Translation: M. Potter


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