By carefully analyzing the fossilized layers of the seabed, dating back about 20 million years, scientists have reconstructed the lair of a giant underwater worm that would most likely lie hidden in the sediment before jumping to plant its prey.
The newly discovered creature is likely to be the ancestor of Eunice aphroditois or the beaver worm that exists today, researchers say – these scary-looking modern creatures can grow up to 3 meters (about 10 feet) in length, catching and catching their food with powerful jaws and sharp lips.
Although the history of worms like these is already thought to extend back hundreds of millions of years – perhaps in the early Paleozoic – their soft parts of the body mean that there is largely incomplete fossil record of them, making this new find significant.
The team behind the new study recovered and processed 31
The name of the fossil tracks, also known as ihnovid Pennichnus beautiful!; based on an analysis of the size and shape of the hole, as well as signs of disturbance left in the rock record, it appears to have been home to an ancient worm that also jumped from the seabed to catch prey.
“These morphological characteristics of Pennichnus are consistent with the activities of an ambush predator, and we therefore assume that giant polychaetes, such as beetle worms, are the most likely producers of traces, the researchers wrote in their report.
One of these morphological characteristics is the high concentration of iron up to the top of the hole. This suggests that ancient worms used mucus to rebuild their lairs after an attack, as bacteria that feed on this mucus would leave traces of iron.
Other potential residents of P. formosa, including shrimp and molluscs, were excluded: shrimp tend to make more open and complex holes, while the shape and structure of the hole do not match the patterns left by the molluscs.
The findings fill a gap in our knowledge of how this type of creature has evolved and evolved over time – and how dramatic life (and death) has been on the ocean floor for millions of years.
“To summarize, we hypothesize that about 20 million years ago, on the southeastern border of the Eurasian continent, ancient bean worms colonized the seabed in anticipation of an ambush for transient food,” the researchers wrote.
“As the prey approached the worm, it erupted from its burrow, grabbing and dragging the prey down into the sediment. Under the seabed, the desperate prey escaped to further disrupt the sediment around the hole.”
The study was published in Scientific reports.