The undersea lair of a giant worm that ambushed passing marine creatures 20 million years ago has been uncovered by fossil hunters.
Researchers believe the 2m-long burrow found in ancient marine sediment housed an prehistoric predator that burst out of the seabed and dragged unsuspecting animals down into its lair.
The creature may have been similar to the ferocious Bobbitt worms of today, which lie in wait in sandy seafloor burrows with antennas protruding to sense passersby.
Although soft-bodied, the worms possess sharp and powerful jaws that can slice a fish in two.
“After 20 million years, it’s not possible to say whether this was made by an ancestor of the Bobbitt worm or another predatory worm that worked in more or less the same way,” said Ludvig Lowemark, a professor at National Taiwan University’s geosciences department. “There’s huge variation in Bobbitt worm behavior, but this seems very similar to the shallow water worms that reach out, grab fish and pull them down.”
Bobbit worms, or Eunice aphroditois, take their names from the John Wayne and Lorena Bobbitt case, in which the latter — after years of physical and sexual abuse — cut off the former’s penis with a kitchen knife.
Lowemark and his colleagues discovered the fossilized lair and others like it while studying 20 million-year-old sedimentary rock on the northeastern coast.
The burrows are strengthened with mucus and are more resilient to weathering, meaning they sometimes protrude from the fine sandstone rock faces.
The research team was initially mystified by the fossils, but gradually converged on a likely suspect.
At the top of the 3cm-wide burrows they noticed a distinctive pattern that looked like several inverted funnels stacked on top of each other. This gave the opening of the lair a feathered appearance in cross-section.
Having ruled out other burrowing creatures, such as shrimp, and marks left by stingrays that blast the seabed with water jets to expose cowering prey, the scientists concluded that the feathered entrance to the lair was caused by a hunting strategy similar to the Bobbitt worm’s.
When the worms pull their prey down into their lair, the top of the burrow collapses and the worms have to rebuild it before ambushing their next meal.
“This results in the stack of cone-in-cone structures that form the ‘feathers’ around the uppermost part of the tube,” Lowemark said.
In an article in Scientific Report, the researchers describe 319 such shallow water burrows preserved in 20 million-year-old sandstone in New Taipei City’s Yehliu Geopark and on the nearby Badouzi promontory, suggesting that the local seafloor was colonized with the beasts.
The trace fossil burrows, named Pennichnus formosae, are vertical for the top meter, then run horizontal for another meter or so, perhaps because deeper sediment is harder to burrow into, and the water there is less oxygenated.
Bobbitt worms breathe by absorbing oxygen through their skin.
The researchers hoped the burrows might contain fossilized remains of prey or the worms themselves, but have found none so far.
One possible reason is that burrowing worms often inject their feces into the water and let it drift away, spreading bone fragments from past meals far and wide, Lowemark said.
Lowemark harbors a dream to one day study Bobbitt worms in the wild.
“They are impressive animals,” he said. “You don’t necessarily want to snorkel too close if you find one.”
While the antiparasitic drug ivermectin is being touted as a treatment for COVID-19 in many parts of the world, Taiwanese experts on Monday warned against regular use of the drug in COVID-19 treatment, citing a lack of solid evidence. “Following an experts’ meeting, we do not recommend regular use of ivermectin in treating COVID-19 due to the lack of enough evidence,” said Chang Shan-chwen (張上淳), convener of the Central Epidemic Command Center’s (CECC) expert advisory panel. A report in the American Journal of Therapeutics said that meta-analyses based on 18 randomized controlled treatment trials of ivermectin in COVID-19 patients had found large,
CLASSES HALTED: Cram schools have had to return tuition fees due to mandatory closures and might need to lay off half of their staff because of a lack of revenue The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on the education sector, with some cram schools and tutoring centers saying they might soon be unable to pay their instructors due to the extension of a nationwide level 3 COVID-19 alert. The heightened alert level means schools must remain closed, so cram schools and tutoring centers have had to return tuition fees, one cram school said. June is normally the peak season for recruiting new students at cram schools and tutoring centers, but this year many such schools might need to lay off half of their staff due to a lack of
A person who was on Friday reported as the first in Taiwan to die after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine died of a heart attack, a Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) official said yesterday. The deceased, whose sex and age were not disclosed, had coronary artery disease, which led to a fatal heart attack, Centers for Disease Control Deputy Director-General Chuang Jen-hsiang (莊人祥), who is the CECC’s spokesman, told a news conference, citing the autopsy report. It was the first death listed as a possible adverse event after receiving the AstraZenenca COVID-19 vaccine since the start of the vaccination program on March 22. The
PARTY LINES: Just 28.1% of respondents said they were willing to get a local vaccine, including 52.8% of DPP voters and 48.6% of Taiwan Statebuilding Party voters Sixty-two percent of Taiwanese disapprove of the Central Epidemic Command Center’s (CECC) progress in obtaining COVID-19 vaccines, while 65.6 percent said that they would not take domestic vaccines that lack WHO certification, a poll released yesterday by Trend Survey and Research and commissioned by the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) found. Trend Survey general manager Wu Shih-chang (吳世昌) announced the results of the survey with TPP officials at a virtual news conference, adding that 41.3 percent of respondents said that they highly disapproved of the center’s efforts to secure vaccines. About 68.6 percent of the respondents agreed that the country should rely on