A study reveals that the seabed was inhabited by giant predatory worms

Image of the seabed in the Pacific Ocean.

Image of the seabed in the Pacific Ocean.

An international investigation in which the University of Granada (UGR) participates has revealed that the seabed was inhabited by giant predatory worms during the Miocene Age, from 23 to 5.3 million years ago.

Scientists have identified a new fossil trace, indirect remains of the activity of animals such as dinosaur tracks, fossilized excrements, insect nests or burrows, related to these mysterious animals, possible ancestors of the 'bobbit worm'who still lives today.

These trace-generating organisms may have colonized the seafloor of the Eurasian continent some 20 million years ago, and the finding is based on the reconstruction of giant burrows observed in marine sediments of the Miocene age of Northeast Taiwan, as reported this Thursday by the UGR.

The researcher of the Department of Stratigraphy and Paleontology of the UGR Olmo Míguez has participated in this study, carried out within the framework of a project funded by the Ministry of Science and Technology of Taiwan.

Míguez and the other researchers reconstructed this new fossil trace, which they have named 'Pennichnusformosae'.

The trace fossil consists of an L-shaped burrow, about 2 meters long and 2 to 3 centimeters in diameterTherefore, the size of the organism generating this trace must have been similar.

This morphology suggests that the burrows were probably inhabited by giant marine worms, such as bobbit worm (Euniceaphroditois), which is still found today.

Bobbit worms hide in long, narrow burrows within the seabed and they propel themselves up to grasp prey with their strong jaws.

The authors suggest that, after capturing their prey and retracting their burrow to digest it, different conserved collapse structures were caused in "Pennichnusformosae", which are indicative of the alteration of the sediment surrounding the burrow.

Although marine worms have been around since the early Paleozoic, their bodies are made up mostly of soft tissue and are therefore rarely preserved.

The fossil trace discovered in the study is believed to be the first known of an ambush predator, those that wait quietly for their prey, underground.

Míguez points out that this finding provides a rare insight into the behavior of these creatures under the seabed, and also highlights the usefulness of studying fossil traces to understand the behavior of organisms from the past.


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