Mystery of 'zombie worm' development unveiled

March 12, 2013
This image shows Osedax japonicus: An adult female exposed from a bone. Credit: Norio Miyamoto/Naturwissenschaften

How do bone-eating worms reproduce? A new study by Norio Miyamoto and colleagues from the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology sheds light on this question through a detailed observation of the postembryonic development and sexual maturation of Osedax worms, also known as "zombie worms." These worms typically inhabit vertebrate bones on the seafloor. The study is published online in Springer's journal Naturwissenschaften - The Science of Nature.

Osedax is Latin for "bone-devourer," which refers to how the worms bore into the bones of to reach enclosed fats and oils, on which they rely for sustenance. The first two species of Osedax were discovered by scientists in 2002. To date, information about the postembryonic development of these , Osedax species, is lacking. In order to understand their development and maturation, Miyamoto and team induced settlement of the bone-eating worm's larvae (Osedax japonicus specifically) by adding small pieces of whale bone to the in which they were cultivating the larvae. After a period of time, they dissected the bones to observe the juvenile worms.

The researchers witnessed the whole development process of the worms, including the duration of the larval stage, the development of typically small, dwarf males and the maturation time in this species. They found that females started to spawn eggs six weeks after settlement. This rapid of females, alongside the male dwarfism which was observed, enables the worms to reproduce effectively in the food-rich, but highly isolated habitat of whale bones.

Dr. Miyamoto said, "Our findings provide essential information on the reproductive strategy of Osedax worms. Osedax japonicus are a promising with which to address the evolution and development of these so-called bone-eating worms."

Explore further: The bizarre lives of bone-eating worms

More information: Miyamoto N et al (2013). Postembryonic Development of Bone-eating Worm Osedax japonicus. Naturwissenschaften – The Science of Nature; DOI 10.1007/s00114-013-1024-7 . http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00114-013-1024-7

Related Stories

The bizarre lives of bone-eating worms

November 9, 2009

The females of the recently discovered Osedax marine worms feast on submerged bones via a complex relationship with symbiotic bacteria, and they are turning out to be far more diverse and widespread than scientists expected. ...

Bone-eating worms 30 million years old

April 20, 2010

An international team of scientists led by the paleontologist Steffen Kiel at the University of Kiel, Germany, found the first fossil boreholes of the worm Osedax that consumes whale bones on the deep-sea floor. They conclude ...

Fleshing out the life histories of dead whales

December 6, 2010

Dead whales that sink down to the seafloor provide a feast for deep-sea animals that can last for years. Previous research suggested that such "whale falls" were homes for unique animals that lived nowhere else. However, ...

Deep-sea worms eat found to eat fish bones

April 14, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- A new study led by a scientist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego is painting a more complete picture of an extraordinary sea worm that makes its living in the depths of the ocean on the ...

Bone-eating 'zombie' worms can no longer hide

October 31, 2011

Bone-eating 'zombie' worms may be good at keeping out of sight, living off dead whales in the darkness of the sea floor, but scientists have found out how to detect them, even if there’s no trace of their bodies or a ...

Researchers discover how 'zombie worms' bore into skeletons

July 2, 2012

(Phys.org) -- In 2002, researchers from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute discovered a unique species of worms in the ocean that live off of the skeletons of dead fish and whales on the sea floor, by boring into ...

Recommended for you

How bees naturally vaccinate their babies

July 31, 2015

When it comes to vaccinating their babies, bees don't have a choice—they naturally immunize their offspring against specific diseases found in their environments. And now for the first time, scientists have discovered how ...

New insights into the production of antibiotics by bacteria

July 31, 2015

Bacteria use antibiotics as a weapon and even produce more antibiotics if there are competing strains nearby. This is a fundamental insight that can help find new antibiotics. Leiden scientists Daniel Rozen and Gilles van ...

Out of the lamplight

July 31, 2015

The human body is governed by complex biochemical circuits. Chemical inputs spur chain reactions that generate new outputs. Understanding how these circuits work—how their components interact to enable life—is critical ...

0 comments

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.