I Don't Want to Cause a Panic…

…but there is more than one species of bone-eating worm! The genus Osedax (Annedida: Siboglinidae) are common features of dead whale falls and obtain their nutrition through bone-penetrating roots that host symbiotic bacteria. Whale bones don’t have chance! The first species was described in 2004 and since then 3 more have been described (O. rubiplumus, O. frankpressi, O. mucofloris, and O. japonicus). A new study by Braby et al. identifies 4 more new species. The 4 tentative species are both morphologically and genetically distinct (based on mtCO1). Interestingly, they may be temporally and spatially segregated on whale falls. The males are typically small and parasitic on the females. A single female may have an entire of harem of males (>100). Now to introduce the species occurring on whale falls off the central California coast.


  • O. frankpressi is about 23mm in length with palps that are red with a white stripe. The roots are robust. So far only known from 2893m.
  • O.rubiplumus.jpg

  • O. rubiplumus is the big girl of the bunch at a whopping 59mm (a little over 2 inches) in length. Most of the other species are near 14-25mm. The palps are brilliant red and thus the latin name. The roots are long and branched. This species is known from 1820-2893m and probably an early colonizer of whale-falls. Its depth range may be limited by the Oxygen Minimum Zone occurring at 800-1200.
  • O.orange.jpg

  • ‘Orange collar’ has…well…an orange collar. The roots are robust and lobate. Smallish at 18mm. Depth is shallow near 385m.
  • O.spiral.jpg

  • ‘Spiral’ is so named for distinctive corkscrew posterior end. Interestingly the species has no palps. The roots are also unique in being filamentous. It is only known from a site at 2893m. It appears to grow only on degraded bone fragments buried in sediment and thus probably a late colonizer.
  • O.yellow.jpg

  • ‘Ol’ Yeller’ is so named for the prominent yellow collar. Known from 385m and tends to be small at ~18mm. The roots are robust and lobate.
  • Orosy.jpg

  • ‘Rosy’ is named for her red palps. The species is only known from 1018m. The roots like O. rubiplumus are long and branched. Formed dense aggregations on lateral processes of whale vertebrae in just 2 months.
Dr. M (1801 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Executive Director of the Lousiana University Marine Consortium. He has conducted deep-sea research for 20 years and published over 50 papers in the area. He has participated in and led dozens of oceanographic expeditions taken him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses on how energy drives the biology of marine invertebrates from individuals to ecosystems, specifically, seeking to uncover how organisms are adapted to different levels of carbon availability, i.e. food, and how this determines the kinds and number of species in different parts of the oceans. Additionally, Craig is obsessed with the size of things. Sometimes this translated into actually scientific research. Craig’s research has been featured on National Public Radio, Discovery Channel, Fox News, National Geographic and ABC News. In addition to his scientific research, Craig also advocates the need for scientists to connect with the public and is the founder and chief editor of the acclaimed Deep-Sea News (http://deepseanews.com/), a popular ocean-themed blog that has won numerous awards. His writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web.

3 Replies to “I Don't Want to Cause a Panic…”

  1. there’s a typo here: “O. rubiplumus is the big girl of the bunch at a whopping 59cm ”

    it’s mm not cm…. you scared me

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