Tuesday, November 2, 2010
November 2, 2010 : Osedax
Osedax is a genus of deep-sea siboglinid polychaetes, commonly called boneworms, zombie worms or bone-eating worms. Osedax is Latin for "bone-eating", the name alluding to how the worms bore into the bones of whale carcasses to reach enclosed lipids, on which they rely for sustenance.
Scientists from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) using the submarine ROV Tiburon first discovered the genus in Monterey Bay, California, in February 2002. The worms were found living on the bones of a decaying gray whale in the Monterey Canyon, at a depth of 2,893 m (9,491 ft).
Lacking stomach and mouth, Osedax rely on symbiotic species of bacteria to digest whale fat and oils and release nutrients that they can absorb. Osedax have colorful feathery plumes that act as gills, and unusual root-like structures that absorb nutrients. Between 50 and 100 microscopic dwarf males live inside a single female, and never develop past the larval stage.
Following its discovery in 2002, the genus was announced in Science in 2004.
In late 2005, an experiment by Swedish marine biologists resulted in the discovery of a species of the worm in the North Sea off the west coast of Sweden. In the experiment, a minke whale carcass that had been washed ashore had been sunk to a depth of 120 m (390 ft) and monitored for several months. Biologists were surprised to find that unlike the previous discoveries, the new species, colloquially known as "bone eating snot flower" after its scientific name (Osedax mucofloris; a more accurate translation would be "slimeflower bone-eater"), lived in very shallow waters compared to the previous discoveries.
In November 2009, researchers reported finding as many as 15 species of boneworms living in Monterey Bay on the California coast.