DeepC Wormz R Da Bomb

Ventral view of Swima species 1 with three attached and two autotomized b-bombs. Image © 2004 Karen J. Osborn.

Ventral view of Swima species 1 with three attached and two autotomized b-bombs. Image © 2004 Karen J. Osborn.

Or perhaps more appropriately have the bomb.  Osborn et al. report in Science seven previously unknown species (0.7 to 3.6 inches) of annelid worms hailing from the deep pelagic (>1800m).  All the new species form a distinctive group within the Cirratuliformia, a recently proposed higher taxonomic group that encompases seven other groups currently recognized as families.  The species here fall in the currently described Acrocirridae but appear to be fairly genetically distinct from other known cirratuliforms.

One of the really cool findings, in addition to the distinctive morphological adaptations of the group described below, is this would represent a third, and independent, invasion of the typically benthic, i.e. living in the mood ooze of the seefloor, cirratuliforms into the nice, clean pelagic realm.

Ventral view of Swima species 3 showing three pairs of attached b-bombs. Image courtesy of Science/AAAS.

It is not just taxonomy and genes that make this group special.  Scratch that.  It is all taxonomy and genes that make this group special!  Five of these species have pairs of oval-shaped organs evolved from branchaie, i.e. gills, that serve as green “bioluminescent bombs”.  These bombs can be dropped like depth charges, releasing brilliant flashes, and speculated to ward off encroaching predators. The presence of smaller B-Bombs are thought to imply that these species can regenerate them as needed.

Ventral view of Swima species 1 with three attached and two autotomized B-bombs. Image © 2004 Karen J. Osborn.

Ventral view of Swima species 1 with three attached and two autotomized B-bombs. Image © 2004 Karen J. Osborn.

Note we here at DSN also are deeply offended by the statement of Oregon Environmental News that “Worms usually aren’t that flamboyant.”.  Apparently someone has never taken a real look at the polychaetes (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here) .  Video of these species are below the fold.

Six previously unknown swimming species of acrocirrid polycheate worms recently discovered in the deep Pacific Ocean. Hypothetical relationships are represented by the twisted evolutionary path leading to each species in this unrooted tree. A typical benthic acrocirrid is included for comparison to the swimming species. Image © 2009 Karen J. Osborn.

Six previously unknown swimming species of acrocirrid polycheate worms recently discovered in the deep Pacific Ocean. Hypothetical relationships are represented by the twisted evolutionary path leading to each species in this unrooted tree. A typical benthic acrocirrid is included for comparison to the swimming species. Image © 2009 Karen J. Osborn.

Osborn, K., Haddock, S., Pleijel, F., Madin, L., & Rouse, G. (2009). Deep-Sea, Swimming Worms with Luminescent “Bombs” Science, 325 (5943), 964-964 DOI: 10.1126/science.1172488

Hat tip to Ed Yong who apparently has some professional-science-writer-back-door-access combined with I-have an-award-winning-smile that allows him to scoop us on this story and have access to video





Dr. M (1748 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, a National Science Foundation supported initiative. 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. 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. His forthcoming book, Science of the South (http://www.scienceofthesouth.com/), connects cultural icons of South such as pecan pie with the science behind them.


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