New Species of Bone-Eating Worm Discovered in the Mediterranean Sea

Posted on April 8, 2016

Osedax deceptionensis

A new species of bone-eating worm has been discovered in the Mediterranean Sea. This is the first time a species of Osedax has ever been found in the Mediterranean. The bone-eating worms have previously been found in much colder and deeper waters.

The Mediterranean Osedax was found in the bones of a mammal that was deposited by a team of researchers at a depth of 50 meters near the Blanes canyon. The research team was led by the University of Barcelona scientists.

UB researcher Conxita Àvila says in a statement, "The water temperature where Osedax is usually found is low, between -1 and 15 ºC, while in the Mediterranean, at shallow depths, the water is between 11.8 and 22.2 ºC. The rapid decomposition of the lipids in bones found in warmer waters could explain the absence of Osedax in the Mediterranean at depths of less than 50 metres."

UB researcher Sergi Taboada adds, "When the carcass of a vertebrate reaches the Mediterranean seabed and remains at shallow depths, it is free-living bacteria that degrade its bones and decompose the organic material. Where it is deeper there are fewer of these bacteria due to lower water temperatures, but we also find Osedax that, together with endosymbiotic bacteria, feed on the organic material retained in bones and therefore help decompose them."

Only six species of Osedax have been described by science so far although the existence of at least 25 species has been determined. The male worms live inside tubes constructed by the females. The females are symbiotic with bacteria which helps them degrade the organic matter retained in the bones.

The Osedax deceptionensis (another recently discovered species) is pictured above and the bone deposit near the Blanes canyon is pictured below.

A research paper on the new Osedax species can be found here in the journal, PLOS One.

Bones of a mammal deposited by researchers near the Blanes canyon


Photos: University of Barcelona