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The Zombie Worm, Osedax mucofloris



Photo credit: Snek01/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0


The Zombie Worm, Osedax mucofloris, was only discovered relatively recently in the North East Atlantic (in 2005), as it lives in decomposing whale skeletons in the deep sea. It can be found at depths of up to 3,000 m. The worm’s scientific name, Osedax, also rather aptly describes the worm's unique living space as it is derived from the Latin word for “bone eating”.

 

Interestingly, female Zombie Worms (which range in length from 2 to 7 cm) are much larger than male Zombie Worms, which are so tiny that they can only be seen under a microscope. The males are also unusual in that they live inside the females; about 50 to 100 male Zombie Worms can be found inside a single female!

 

The Zombie Worm also has a unique way of attaching itself to bones. With roots sprouting from one end of its body, it drills into the bone and once attached it secretes an acid from its skin. This acid dissolves the bone so that it can bore inside to reach the nutritious fats and proteins. The Zombie Worm is referred to as "bone eating" but it actually doesn't eat the bones. It only eats the fats within. Its style of eating is quite primitive because it doesn't have a mouth or stomach. Instead it has bacteria living inside its body that digest the fats and protein for it. The other end of its body has feathery plumes that act as gills, extracting oxygen from the seawater.



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