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Traces of bone-eating "zombie worms" have been found in a three-million-year-old fossil from Italy, say researchers.
Osedax worms feed on whale skeletons on the seabed using root-like tissues to bore into and dissolve the bones.
Scientists from the Natural History Museum in London identified telltale borings in the fossil using a scanner.
The discovery suggests the worms were much more widespread throughout prehistoric oceans than thought.
The findings of lead scientist Nicholas Higgs and colleagues are published in the journal Historical Biology. The only other evidence of Osedax worms in the fossil record was found off the coast of Washington state, US, last year.
Mr Higgs was investigating Osedax worms for his PhD studies and made contact with staff at the University of Florence's Museum of Natural History in Italy.
Staff had previously discovered a whale fossil surrounded by other fossilised organisms that suggested an ecosystem had developed around the carcass.
These 'whale falls' provide ideal conditions for bone-eating worms so Mr Higgs travelled to Italy to investigate the fossils.
"We didn't find any [traces] on that whale skeleton in particular... but I spent a week there searching through all their collections and I eventually found this bone in a dusty box," Mr Higgs told BBC Nature.
"This bone had been collected in 1875 so it had been in the collection for ages just gathering dust. It wasn't a very good whale specimen so it never really got put out on display," he said, explaining that pristine examples are more often sought for identification.
But the damage to the bone was familiar to Mr Higgs and back in London his suspicions were confirmed using the Natural History Museum's micro-CT scanner to investigate the fossil in detail.
"Fossils of worms are really rare. We don't know a lot about their fossil record because they're soft animals," he said.
"But, because these particular worms leave characteristic borings, we can trace them."
Taken from the BBC - read the full article here
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