New species of 'spiral poo worms' found in the Atlantic

December 22, 2011 By Marion O'Sullivan
New species of 'spiral poo worms' found in the Atlantic
North Atlantic deep sea acorn worm.

They could be mistaken for exotic blooms, but the colorful creatures captured in the depths of the Atlantic Ocean actually belong to a family of recently discovered acorn worms.

The were collected last year by scientists using a remotely-operated vehicle aboard the RRS James Cook, during a to the Mid Atlantic Ridge. identified them as a new species of worm related to the Torquaratoridae family.

The worms have gone undetected until now because the primitive deep-sea grabs and dredges used in earlier years would have destroyed their fragile bodies. Their shallow-water relatives, which have acorn-shaped heads, are rarely seen as they burrow into the .

"Acorn worms are a real curiosity; for hundreds of years we have seen spiral poo trails in fossils but no-one knew what they were from," says Professor Monty Priede, director of Aberdeen University's Oceanlab and leader of the expedition. "There were no "footprints" between the spirals so it was a mystery as to what type of animal had made them, until just a few years ago when researchers discovered a spiral poo worm in the Pacific Ocean."

North Atlantic deep sea acorn worm.

The delicate creatures have no eyes or tail, but manage to crawl around the muddy in a spiral pattern, hoovering up food and expelling waste as they move along.

"The worms have a dorsal nerve and a primitive spinal cord so can give us an insight into what the early ancestors of fish and other back-boned animals would have been like," says Priede.

"The key thing that's missing is the tail so, rather than swimming as it feeds, the worm moves more like a snow plough, shovelling nutritious sediment into its open mouth. It drags its gut along, leaving the characteristic spiral in its wake."

Although unable to swim, the worms can lift themselves off the to drift on currents between patches of suitable feeding ground.

Priede thinks that this could be the start of an 'evolutionary explosion' of these animals, with 15 new species discovered so far and more likely to be found in the coming years.

"I thought all the great discoveries had been made in the 1800s at the time of Charles Darwin," he says. "Finds like this demonstrate that the age of discovery is far from over."

Explore further: Rare lightshow seen in deep ocean

Related Stories

Rare lightshow seen in deep ocean

November 17, 2006

Rare footage of marine creatures putting on deep sea 'lightshows' on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean has been captured by scientists using the latest technology. So many animals were squirting luminescence into the water ...

New species discovered on the Great Barrier Reef

March 8, 2010

Between the grains of sand on the sea floor there is an unknown and unexplored world. Pierre De Wit at Gothenburg University knows this well, and has found new animal species on the Great Barrier Reef, in New Caledonia and ...

New creatures from the deep identified

November 16, 2011

( -- Strange deep sea creatures discovered by Aberdeen researchers have been confirmed as three new species previously unknown to science.

Recommended for you

Study suggests fish can experience 'emotional fever'

November 25, 2015

(—A small team of researchers from the U.K. and Spain has found via lab study that at least one type of fish is capable of experiencing 'emotional fever,' which suggests it may qualify as a sentient being. In their ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Dec 22, 2011
I'm not gonna lie. I read this article solely because it talked about "Spiral Poo Worms".

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.