Scientists have uncovered fossil evidence of a new species, a terrifying 6-foot-long prehistoric carnivorous worm that once swam in abundance in the seas in North America about 400 million years ago. And if being 6 feet long wasn’t enough for nightmares, the part scientists found to base their extrapolations on was the creature’s massive jaws.
The fossil find, according to the Daily Mail, is that of the largest bristle worm ever discovered. Said Luke Parry, a PhD student at the University of Bristol told the Mail, “Through our research we’ve managed to describe the largest bristle worm ever known. We found jaws of the worm in a remote locality at the bottom of Hudson Bay in Ontario in Canada. We then compared the jaws with those of their closet living relatives which are bobbit worms and we managed to work out that this new species was around two meters long.”
The new species was dubbed Websteroprion armstrongi after Alex Webster, a bassist from Death Metal band Cannibal Corpse, which is Parry’s favorite band. It was discovered at the bottom of Hudson Bay near Ontario, Canada.
Parry said that it is unclear why this particular species, long extinct, grew to be so large. The fact that they inhabited tropical regions where the water as warm and shallow could have enabled the worms to grow “bigger and bigger,” he postulated. Parry said another reason for the worms to have gotten so large may have been due to “competitive dominance.” He said this could have been in response to the need to be larger than its rivals in order to obtain the most food.
Much of the prehistoric worm’s history is unknown. “We’ve only found one set of fossils so it’s difficult to tell how long they were around for or when they went extinct,” Parry admitted.
Still, the huge jaws of the prehistoric creature led scientists to the worm’s closest extant relatives. From there, researchers were then able to figure out how the monster worm behaved in its environment.
Websteroprion armstrongi is related to the bobbit worm, whose actual name is “giant eunicid,” which also uses its large jaws to capture unsuspecting prey, like octopuses, squid, and fish. This species averages about one meter (3.3 feet) length-wise, although they can grow to three meters (10 feet) in length.
Parry describes the bobbit worm as an ambusher.
“Bobbit worms sit in burrows at the bottom of the sea and use their sensory appendages to monitor what food is going by. When they sense prey is near, they snatch it up and pull it into their burrow.”
But the new species, comparatively, is enormous and has the largest jaws ever recorded on a creature of this type. Lund University’s Mats Eriksson, lead author of the study, noted that the “gigantism,” though optimal for competitive dominance, is a “poorly understood phenomenon among marine worms and has never before been demonstrated in a fossil species.” He added that it was a “unique case” in the Paleozoic.
The researchers’ findings were published February 21 in Scientific Reports.
And even though gigantism may have been a unique feature during the Paleozoic, the Earth would soon, geologically speaking, be overrun with gigantic creatures beginning about 230-245 million years ago in the Triassic Period. The dinosaurs would evolve and reign through the Jurassic Period and see a sudden die-off of most dinosaur species about 66 million years ago which is attributed to various catastrophic occurrences, such as a meteor impact (Chixhulub), increased volcanic activity, and global climate change, all of which may have been interrelated.
And although the Age of the Dinosaurs may not have had a 6-foot carnivore worm, the giant beasts’ demise may have helped give rise to gigantic snakes like the Titanoboa, a massive reptile that lived around 58-60 million years ago during the Paleocene epoch of the Paleogene Period. The only known fossil evidence of the genus was uncovered in Colombia in 2009 by an international team of paleontologists, according to Science Daily. The boa constrictor-like creature was estimated to be from 42-45 feet long and weighed about 1.25 tons.
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