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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Zombie Worms Drill Whale Bones with Acid

So-called zombie worms -- and yes, they actually exist -- like to munch on whale bones for dinner. The creatures also use the bones for shelter. Spread throughout the world's oceans, zombie worms are quite adept at making the bones of whales and other large marine animals look like Swiss cheese.

But these worms don't have any mouthparts with which to gnaw the holes. So how do they do it? A study published in the May 1 online edition of the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B found that rather than being "bone-drilling" worms, they're actually "bone-dissolving" worms: The worms’ skin produces acid in large quantities to break down bones.
PHOTOS: Up Close and Totally Gross

The acid is produced by proton pumps, protein-containing structures abundant in the front end of the worm's body, said Martin Tresguerres, a marine physiologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif.

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