Giant worm’s lair discovered underground in Taiwan

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Schematic three-dimensional model of the feeding behavior of Bobbit worms and the proposed formation of Pennichnus formosae. (a) Bobbit worm sits inside the L-shaped burrow waiting for prey and (b) uses its strong jaws to catch the prey (e.g., fish) passing by the burrow opening (see video at https://www.mmoraa.com/video). (c) As the struggling prey is pulled into the burrow, the sediment collapses around the aperture to form feather-like collapse structures surrounding the upper burrow. Between the burrow and feather-like collapse structures is a disturbed zone caused by the repeated feeding action of the worm and burrow re-establishment that results in an accumulation of mucus lining over time. Scale bar = 30 cm. (Scientific Reports, Creative Commons: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)

(NEXSTAR) — A massive worm’s lair has been discovered underground in Taiwan.

The 20-million-year-old burrow was recently discovered by scientists, who published their findings Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports.

The so-called “Bobbit worm” — named for the John and Lorena Bobbit case, in which the latter cut of her then-husband’s penis with a kitchen knife — could grow to 3 meters long, or about 9 feet.

The giant worm had terrifying feeding habits. According to the article, “They hide in their burrows until they explode upwards grabbing unsuspecting prey with a snap of their powerful jaws,” before dragging their prey down into the earth.

Ludvig Löwemark, a sedimentologist at National Taiwan University and study co-author, told Wired that he believes the newly discovered fossil “shows how invertebrates like worms were feeding on vertebrates.”

“Typically, what we find in the sedimentary record is animals that are moving through the sediment,” he continued. “But this is a record of a much more active behavior. The worms were actually hiding in the sediment, jumping out, catching their prey, and then dragging this prey down into the sediment.”

This particular fossil shows the worm was only 2 meters long. Scientists believe it fed on fish, bivalves — a class of freshwater mollusks — and other segmented worms.

Researchers described 319 burrows preserved in the sandstone of Yehliu Geopark, an area outside New Taipei City, suggesting that the Bobbit worm may have been widespread 20 million years ago.

“After 20 million years, it’s not possible to say whether this was made by an ancestor of the Bobbit worm or another predatory worm that worked in more or less the same way,” Löwemark told the Guardian of the worm’s fossilized burrow. “There’s huge variation in Bobbit worm behaviour, but this seems very similar to the shallow water worms that reach out, grab fish and pull them down.”

“They are impressive animals,” he said. “You don’t necessarily want to snorkel too close if you find one.”

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