Bone-munching worms found on sea floor

August 14, 2013
An undated handout photo released on November 1, 2011 by the Antarctic Ocean Alliance shows the sea floor in Antarctic waters. Scientists said Wednesday they had discovered two new species of a strange bone-devouring worm thriving in the mysterious waters that surround the Antarctic continent.

Scientists said Wednesday they had discovered two new species of a strange bone-devouring worm thriving in the mysterious waters that surround the Antarctic continent.

The Osedax worms feed on the bones of dead whales that settle on the sea floor, fulfilling an important recycling role, said a study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

The worms, named Osedax antarcticus and Osedax deceptionensis, were discovered by an international team of scientists probing the fate of whale bones and shipwrecks on the Southern Ocean floor.

The worms are a few millimetres long, each with four finger-like appendages attached to a central trunk.

Five other Osedax species had been known before the two Antarctic types were found.

While the team revelled in their discovery, they were struck by a distinct absence of wood-eating molluscs known as Xylophagainae commonly found on deep-sea sunken wood.

"Over the course of a year, we deployed and recovered a piece of called a deep-sea lander, laden with the most unusual cargo—large whale bones and planks of wood," said study co-author Adrian Glover of London's Natural History Museum.

"When we recovered the bones and wood we'd put on the sea floor, the results were obvious immediately: the bones were infested by a carpet of red-plumed Osedax worms... but the wood planks were untouched, with not a trace of the wood-eating worms.

"The wood was hardly degraded... after 14 months on the "—one of the least explored ecosystems on Earth.

The of wood-munchers may be good news for marine archaeologists.

The Southern Ocean is home to many a shipwreck—including British explorer Ernest Shackleton's pine and oak-built vessel Endurance, which was crushed by ice and sank in the cold waters on a 1914 expedition.

Explore further: Bone-eating worms 30 million years old

More information: Bone-eating worms from the Antarctic: the contrasting fate of whale and wood remains on the Southern Ocean seafloor ,

Related Stories

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 ...

Deep-sea worms eat found to eat fish bones

April 14, 2011

( -- 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 ...

Mystery of 'zombie worm' development unveiled

March 12, 2013

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 ...

Recommended for you

A better way to read the genome

October 9, 2015

UConn researchers have sequenced the RNA of the most complicated gene known in nature, using a hand-held sequencer no bigger than a cell phone.

Threat posed by 'pollen thief' bees uncovered

October 9, 2015

A new University of Stirling study has uncovered the secrets of 'pollen thief' bees - which take pollen from flowers but fail to act as effective pollinators - and the threat they pose to certain plant species.

Most EU nations seek to bar GM crops

October 4, 2015

Nineteen of the 28 EU member states have applied to keep genetically modified crops out of all or part of their territory, the bloc's executive arm said Sunday, the deadline for opting out of new European legislation on GM ...


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.