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Science

Bone-Eating Worms Found In Antarctic Waters 38

Posted by samzenpus
from the stays-crunchy dept.
sciencehabit writes "When you drop a whale backbone into Antarctic waters and retrieve it a year later, you'll find it covered with a pelt of wriggling, rosy-hued worms. Drop a chunk of wood in the same spot, and you'll discover that it's hardly changed. That's the result of a simple experiment to find out if some of the world's weirdest worms also live in Antarctic waters. The discovery extends the range of bone-eating worms to the Southern Ocean and suggests that Antarctic shipwrecks may be remarkably intact."
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Bone-Eating Worms Found In Antarctic Waters

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  • Aha! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Cryacin (657549) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @11:45PM (#44580231)

    When you drop a whale backbone into Antarctic waters and retrieve it a year later, you'll find it covered with a pelt of wriggling, rosy-hued worms

    So *this* is the "scientific research" that the Japanese are performing.

  • What else is there to do in the Arctic on a weekend. Gnaw on bones, ar stay at home. I wouldn't ve surprised to find out that the scientists had already gnawed the bones first.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      This is the Antarctic, not the Arctic.
      As for stuff to do on the weekends, I'm guessing you've not seen many David Attenborough documentaries... because if the photos my friends who've worked there are anything to go by, those doccos are daily life.
      The Australian Antarctic base has a pool room and make their own beer & spirits. It's pretty much a big pub, populated by scientists, and if you go outside unprotected in winter you only have minutes to live. (I want to work there so bad.)

    • by P-niiice (1703362)
      They have weed, pool, and the flamethrower. Occasionally, a dog might come running into camp neing chased by a helicopter. It's not totally boring.
  • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @11:59PM (#44580289)

    The discovery extends the range of bone-eating worms to the Southern Ocean and suggests that Antarctic shipwrecks may be remarkably intact.

    The boats, maybe; but apparently not the crew...

  • And more scientifically valid to just compare known whale skeletons and shipwrecks?

    Maybe the wood worms just spread out and find new wood to eat on an annual cycle, or are just really slow to find new wood.
    "I put this wood in the ocean for a short time, and no worms ate it" gives you no actual information.

    • by Mashiki (184564)

      There's a much simpler answer. It's not even seasonal, the lack of wood in general doesn't foster that type of ecosystem. Once you're above the treeline you're not going to find much if any wood, except that which has either made the trip via humans, or by natural disasters.

      • by dutchwhizzman (817898) on Friday August 16, 2013 @02:05AM (#44580793)

        At any location a few hundred miles out of the coast, the chances of wood ending up there are way too small for any species to rely on that. In general, almost all wood floats. Wooden ship wrecks sink mainly because ships have ballast and metal bits, or the lighter than water parts are eaten by bacteria. It's the same bacteria that eventually will make all thrift wood sink, unless it's washed ashore somewhere. Wood that is heavier than water by itself tends to not end up far from shores anyway.

        Given the fact that wood is a rare food source under water regardless of where you are, the question is what the wildlife that causes ship wrecks to decay feasts on when they are lacking historical nautical drama to dine on. Apparently the Antarctic seas aren't providing enough of that to be a sustainable habitat for these creatures. There are plenty of algae available in the higher layers of the Antarctic seas, or they wouldn't be able to sustain the krill population that the whales and fish feed on, but it could very well be that that is the only plant life and no larger plants are growing there. I haven't bothered looking that up, but it sounds to me that this is a much more likely explanation than "lack of trees on land" would be.

        • by TapeCutter (624760) on Friday August 16, 2013 @05:19AM (#44581445) Journal
          Yes, I think it's safe to assume that most wood enters the ocean via rivers, I would expect the vast majority of it is consumed by hungry critters before it gets of the river's underwater delta. From personal experience I worked on a fishing trawler in the Southern Ocean many years ago, even back in the 80's the ship pretty much drove itself but there had to be someone on watch at all times to avoid hazards (identified on the radar). Floating trees were the main worry but I only saw one or two when out at sea, which seems to agree with what your saying. The vast majority of the hazards turned out to be either floating beer cans, or sun-baking seals. Yes, they were Aussie seals, but I still haven't figured out how they managed the ring-pull with those flippers. :)
    • by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Friday August 16, 2013 @01:49AM (#44580713)

      Maybe the wood worms just spread out and find new wood to eat on an annual cycle, or are just really slow to find new wood.

      Where would this wood come from? The tropical rainforests of Antarctica?

      • by H0p313ss (811249)

        Maybe the wood worms just spread out and find new wood to eat on an annual cycle, or are just really slow to find new wood.

        Where would this wood come from? The tropical rainforests of Antarctica?

        Shhh.... everyone will want one.

      • by Scoldog (875927)

        Maybe the wood worms just spread out and find new wood to eat on an annual cycle, or are just really slow to find new wood.

        Where would this wood come from? The tropical rainforests of Antarctica?

        Close. The tropical rainforests of Atlantis actually.

      • by Nyder (754090)

        Maybe the wood worms just spread out and find new wood to eat on an annual cycle, or are just really slow to find new wood.

        Where would this wood come from? The tropical rainforests of Antarctica?

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Savage_Land [wikipedia.org]

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "Just picture famed Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton’s ship Endurance, which sank in 1915 in western Antarctic waters. Its pine and oak hull now lie on the sea floor, most likely pristine and intact, awaiting discovery."

    That ship was crushed to pieces in the ice, hardly pristine and intact.

  • by StarfishOne (756076) on Friday August 16, 2013 @03:04AM (#44581031)

    .. are said to be b-b-b-b-bad to the bone. ;-)

  • by Anonymous Coward

    crappy series in 3..2..1

  • "The discovery extends the range of bone-eating worms..." It's unsettling to know their range is 'extended'. It's terrifying when you didn't know there were BONE EATING WORMS.
  • I don't really think that it is that novel a discovery that that there are bone eating organisms in a part of the ocean where animals regularly die and discard bone matter. Nor is it particularly odd that there are no wood-eating worms in an area that hasn't had any trees for several million years.

    Hopefully there was more than that to their research focus.

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