400 million year old gigantic extinct monster worm discovered in Canadian museum
A previously undiscovered species of an extinct primordial giant worm with terrifying snapping jaws has been identified by an international team of scientists.
|The holotype of Websteroprion armstrongi [Credit: Luke Parry]|
The new species is unique among fossil worms and possessed the largest jaws ever recorded in this type of creature, reaching over one centimetre in length and easily visible to the naked eye. Typically, such fossil jaws are only a few millimetres in size and need to be studied using microscopes.
Despite being only knows from the jaws, comparison with living species suggests that this animal achieved a body length in excess of a metre.
This is comparable to that of 'giant eunicid' species, colloquially referred to as 'Bobbit worms' which are fearsome and opportunistic ambush predators, using their powerful jaws to capture prey such as fish and cephalopods (squids and octopuses) and dragging them into their burrows.
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.
|Artistic reconstruction showing W. armstrongi attacking a fish in the Devonian sea |
[Credit: James Ormiston]
"The new species demonstrates a unique case of polychaete gigantism in the Palaeozoic, some 400 million years ago."
Co-author Luke Parry from the University of Bristol's School of Earth Sciences, added: "It also shows that gigantism in jaw-bearing polychaetes was restricted to one particular evolutionary clade within the Eunicida and has evolved many times in different species."
The specimens were collected over the course of a few hours in a single day in June 1994, when Derek K Armstrong of Ontario Geological Survey was dropped by helicopter to investigate the rocks and fossils at a remote and temporary exposure in Ontario.
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 they caught the eyes of the authors'.
|A 3-D reconstruction of parts of the jaw apparatus of W. armstrongi from CT scanning of the fossil specimens |
[Credit: Luke Parry]
The species has been named Websteroprion armstrongi. This honours Armstrong, who collected the material, and bass player extraordinaire, Alex Webster of Death Metal band Cannibal Corpse, since he can be regarded as a 'giant' when it comes to handling his instrument.
Luke Parry added: "This is fitting also since, beside our appetite for evolution and paleontology, all three authors have a profound interest in music and are keen hobby musicians."
The findings are published in Scientific Reports.
Source: University of Bristol [Febraury 21, 2017]