[FoRK] Today in worm news...

Joseph S. Barrera III joe at barrera.org
Thu Aug 5 23:44:54 PDT 2004

Feasting On Whalefall 
  By rickyjames, 2004-08-03 20:02:29 
  Section: News, Topic: Biology 


Scientists studying a whale carcass in Monterey Canyon recently
announced the discovery of two new species of unique worms that feed on
the bones of dead whales. In the July 30 issue of Science, the researchers
describe these worms, whose bodies and feeding strategies differ from
those of any other known animal. The worms have no eyes, legs, mouths, or
stomachs, but they do have colorful feathery plumes and green "roots."
They use the roots to infiltrate the bones of dead whales, digesting the
fats and oils inside with the help of symbiotic bacteria. Marine biologist
Greg Rouse, from the South Australian Museum, worked with scientists Shana
Goffredi and Robert Vrijenhoek at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research
Institute (MBARI) [http://www.mbari.org/default.htm] to classify the new
worms, placing them in a new genus called "Osedax
[http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/data/305/5684/668/DC1/1]," which is Latin
for "bone devourer."  After studying the dead whale in Monterey Bay for
over a year and half, Vrijenhoek and Goffredi have come to the conclusion
that the two new worm species are but the tip of the iceberg (or perhaps
the tip of the whale's tail). Whale carcasses--or whalefalls
[http://www.mbari.org/news/news_releases/2002/dec20_whalefall.html], as
they are called--represent a massive input of food into the generally
food-limited environment of the deep sea. One whalefall can provide as
much organic material as thousands of years of marine snow, the organic
debris that drifts down from surface waters to sustain life in the deep.  
Whalefall specialist Craig Smith of the University of Hawaii has
identified entire ecosystems with hundreds of different animals that have
developed around a single whalefall. Some of these communities may be
sustained for decades on the oil-saturated whale bones. The MBARI
scientists will describe the unusual animal community at the Monterey
Canyon whalefall in a paper to be published in the October 2004 issue of
Deep Sea Research


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