Bone-eating Worm Borehole Fossils Found

KIEL, Germany, April 21 (UPI) — A German-led team of scientists says it has identified the first fossil boreholes of the worm Osedax, which consumes whale bones on the deep-sea floor.

The researchers led by University of Kiel paleontologist Steffen Kiel say their finding suggests “boneworms” are at least 30 million years old.

It’s only been six years since Osedax was first described based on specimens living on a whale carcass at about a depth of 9,500 feet in the Pacific, off California, the scientists said. Since then paleontologists have been searching for fossil evidence to determine the worms’ geologic age.

Now the researchers have matched holes and excavations in 30 million-year-old whale bones to living Osedax in size and shape.

“The age of our fossils coincides with the time when whales began to inhabit the open ocean,” Kiel said, noting only open ocean dead whales could sink to the deep-sea floor where they served as food for the boneworms.

“Food is extremely rare on the vast deep-sea floor and the concurrent appearance of these whales and Osedax shows that even hard whale bones were quickly utilized as food source,” he said explaining the relevance of the discovery.

The research appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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