Whale Wednesday: Circle of (Creepy) Life - Oceana USA
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November 18, 2009

Whale Wednesday: Circle of (Creepy) Life

Here at Whale Wednesday, we generally talk about the amazing life of whales… while they are alive. But like everything in nature, cetaceans pass on. And good thing, too, if you are a boneworm.

These strange, tiny creatures feast on the bones of mammal carcasses on the sea floor. Bobbing along as microscopic larvae until they come in contact with a whale or elephant seal, they then latch on, sending root-like structures into the bones and feathery arms into the water. The bacteria in these roots break down bone protein, while the feathery appendages draw in oxygen. And that’s not the strangest part.

All boneworms start off male, but as they sexually mature, become female. However, if a male larvae lands on a female boneworm, he will become a male worm, though remain microscopic in size. He will then go on to fertilize the females eggs, which will result in all-male larvae. And the cycle begins again.

Space is often touted as the final frontier, but the depths of the oceans hold much more mystery… and bone eating worms.