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Science

Giant worms undersea lair discovered by fossil hunters in Taiwan – The Guardian

Science

Scientists consider 2-metre-long burrow as soon as housed predator that ambushed passing sea creatures

The undersea lair of a large worm that ambushed passing marine creatures 20m years in the past has been uncovered by fossil hunters in Taiwan.

Researchers consider the 2-metre-long burrow present in historical marine sediment as soon as housed a prehistoric predator that burst out of the seabed and dragged unsuspecting animals down into its lair.

The creature could have been just like the ferocious “Bobbit worms” of right this moment that lie in wait in sandy seafloor burrows with antennae protruding to sense passersby. Although soft-bodied, the worms possess sharp and highly effective jaws that may slice a fish in two.

“After 20m years, it’s not potential to say whether or not this was made by an ancestor of the Bobbit worm or one other predatory worm that labored in roughly the identical approach,” stated Prof Ludvig Löwemark, a sedimentologist at Nationwide Taiwan College. “There’s enormous variation in Bobbit worm behaviour, however this appears similar to the shallow water worms that attain out, seize fish and pull them down.”

An illustration reveals how the worms could have captured their prey. {Photograph}: Provided

Bobbit worms, or Eunice aphroditois, take their names from the John and Lorena Bobbitt case, during which the latter – after years of bodily and sexual abuse – lower off the previous’s penis with a kitchen knife.

Löwemark and his colleagues found the fossilised lair and others prefer it whereas learning 20m-year-old sedimentary rock on the north-eastern coast of Taiwan. The burrows are strengthened with mucus and are extra resilient to weathering, which means they generally protrude from the advantageous sandstone rock faces.

The scientists have been initially mystified by the hint fossils, however steadily converged on a probable suspect. On the high of the 3cm-wide burrows they seen a particular sample that seemed like a number of inverted funnels stacked on high of one another. This gave the opening of the lair a feathered look in cross-section.

Having dominated out different burrowing creatures akin to shrimp, and marks left by stingrays that blast the seabed with water jets to reveal cowering prey, the researchers concluded the feathered entrance to the lair was brought on by a searching technique just like the Bobbit worm’s.

When the worms pull their prey down into their lair, the highest of the burrow collapses and the worms need to rebuild it earlier than ambushing their subsequent meal. “This ends in the stack of cone-in-cone buildings that type the ‘feathers’ across the uppermost a part of the tube,” stated Löwemark.

Researchers found 319 of the shallow burrows in 20m-year-old sandstone. {Photograph}: Provided

Writing in the journal Scientific Reports, the researchers describe 319 such shallow water burrows preserved in 20m-year-old sandstone in Yehliu Geopark and on the close by Badouzi promontory, suggesting the native seafloor was colonised with the beasts. The hint fossil burrows, named Pennichnus formosae, are vertical for the highest metre, then run horizontal for one more metre or so, maybe as a result of deeper sediment is more durable to burrow into, and the water there may be much less oxygenated. Bobbit worms breathe by absorbing oxygen via their pores and skin.

The researchers hoped the burrows may include fossilised stays of prey or the worms themselves, however have discovered none to this point. One motive, Löwemark stated, is that burrowing worms usually inject their faeces into the water and let it drift away, spreading bone fragments from previous meals far and broad.

Löwemark harbours a dream to check Bobbit worms within the wild sooner or later. “They’re spectacular animals,” he stated. “You don’t essentially need to snorkel too shut for those who discover one.”

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