The bone-eating snot-flower worm

Osedax mucofloris, seen alive, growing on the surface of a whale boneSounds lovely, doesn’t it? But look how pretty it is! I recently discovered this little beauty in my occasional quest for fascinatingly odd creatures. It’s actually Osedax mucofloris, “osedax” meaning ‘bone-eating’, and “mucofloris” meaning – well, you can guess. It was discovered in 2005 on the remains of a dead whale in Kosterfjord on the Swedish coast. The whale had been dead for months, and had already been stripped to the bone by scavenging denizens of the deep. The worm looked like pretty pink flowers growing out of the bones.

Entire Osedax mucofloris animal, dissected out from a whale bone Scientists, as is their nature, dug the flowers out and found that the other half of the animal (the ‘root’) was buried inside the bone, presumably obtaining nutrients from it. The picture over on the right there shows the whole animal. That woolly mass down at the bottom is its ‘root’ system.

The BESFW (as my can’t-be-arsed-typing-the-full-name fingers now call it) is a type of annelid worm, and related to creatures like ragworms, leeches and even the good old earthworm. So far, it has only been discovered on two whale skeletons, those of a minke and a pilot, and both in the same fjord.

Experts ‘guess’ that it’s actually pretty widespread in the Atlantic, although that’s going to be hard to prove given that whale skeletons are REALLY hard to find on the ocean floor.

Fertilised eggs of Osedax mucofloris being released into the water columnThe BESFW exhibits very strong sexual dimorphism – that is, the males do not develop into mature adults, and (rather like human males) remain as big kids all their lives. They are attached to the sides of the female, and fertilise her eggs as they are released into the water (see worm porn, left).

I have as yet no information on why they didn’t call it “The Pretty Pink Flowery Worm”, or for my Northern readers, how they taste when fried.

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About wombat37

A Yorkshireman in the green hills of Lancashire, UK Not a real wombat, obviously, or typing would become an issue. I do have short legs and a hairy nose, however. Oh, & a distinctive smell.

Posted on March 30, 2012, in Bone-eating snot-flower worm, Mysterious little creatures. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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