Scientists discover enormous 400 million year old extinct worm in Canadian museum

Rodiano Bonacci
Febbraio 22, 2017

Scientists have discovered a giant worm-no, not this guy-that terrorized fish, octopuses, and squids with its comparatively massive jaws 400 million years ago.

A team of global scientists from the University of Bristol, Lund University in Sweden and the Royal Ontario Museum, identified the new species, noting that its big size is comparable to the living species of the "giant eunicid" species, better known as "Bobbit worms", which are considered to be terrifying and opportunistic ambush predators that use powerful jaws to capture their prey. Most bristle worm jaws are a scant few millimeters long and require a microscope to see; this worm's jaws were longer than a centimeter and could be seen with the naked eye. Fortunately, the 400m-year-old creature is long extinct. Based on measurements of the worm's jaw and comparisons to related species, scientists estimate the worm would have grown to lengths in excess of three feet.

The holotype of Websteroprion armstrongi.

Lead author Mats Eriksson from Lund University said: "Gigantism in animals is an alluring and ecologically important trait, usually associated with advantages and competitive dominance". However, gigantism is still poorly understood among marine worms, he said. Furthermore, researchers added that the fossil shows that gigantism in species with jaws was limited to a certain evolutionary clade within the eunicid species, and has evolved over time.

Researchers described the species in a new paper, published this week in the journal Scientific Reports. Sample materials, from what proved to belong to the Devonian Kwataboahegan Formation, were brought back to the Royal Ontario Museum, where they have been stored until now.

A 3-D reconstruction of parts of the jaw apparatus of W. armstrongi from CT scanning of the fossil specimens.

David Rudkin from the museum said: "This is an excellent example of the importance of looking in remote and unexplored areas for finding new exciting things, but also the importance of scrutinizing museum collections for overlooked gems".

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