New species of bone-eating worm discovered in alligator corpse: Study
Postmedia News
January 23, 2020
January 23, 2020 6:17 PM EST
Brown brown, fuzzy carpet-like bone-feeding worms can be seen feeding off the jaw of an alligator carcass in this screengrabe of a YouTube video. (LUMCON/YouTube)
A new species of bone-eating worm has been discovered in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, a recent study has found.
The bizarre finding came from an experiment in which scientists dropped three alligator corpses strapped onto weighted harnesses to the bottom of the ocean to see how carbon-hungry deepwater creatures would react to a non-native food source — namely, the carcasses of the freshwater alligators.
The new zombie worm species, from the osedax genus, has yet to be named and was among one of several scavengers that feasted on the carcasses.
Scientists discovered the worm when it crawled on an alligator corpse on the ocean floor and completely consumed its soft tissue within 51 days.
The study, published in the science journal PLOS ONE in late December, was conducted by researchers at the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium in early 2019.
“The deep ocean is a food desert sprinkled with food oases,” study co-author Clifton Nunnally said in a YouTube video posted last April. “Some of these oases are vents in the ocean floor where chemicals come out or food falling from the ocean’s surface.”
Previous studies into falling food have looked at large mammals, such as whales, but the scientists in this study wanted to know if scavengers can feed off an animal with a tough scaly skin, such as an alligator.
In addition to the brown fuzzy, carpet-like worms, they also observed another scavenger, a crustacean called giant isopods feast on one carcass within the two days that it was dropped into the ocean. Tiny pink shrimp-like amphipods were also seen darting around another carcass.
Researchers said the alligators were donated by the state of Louisiana and were humanely euthanized.
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