When thinking about worms, you typically don’t conjure up a favorable image but the pictures released of the recently-discovered species of acorn worm that sports a colorful body as well as big “lips.” The bright fuschsia coloring, the worm was one of 12 new species and at least four new genera of worms found during recent deep-sea expeditions.
Discovered at around 8,850 feet deep around the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the rosy acorn worm was a surprising find for the research team. Typically a shallow-water burrower, “The shallow-water worms pretty much all look the same,” said said Karen Osborn, an evolutionary biologist at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. Osborn co-authored a new study that was published November 16 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B that shows these worms do live in deeper waters across the globe.
“But at some point, one of these shallow-water guys got into deep water, and they’ve changed their morphology to deal with the unique challenges of that deep-sea habitat,” adds Osborn. One change is the deepwater worms have extremely long “lips” that help them snag prey in a place where food is scarce.
The bright red, purple and fushcia colors are befuddling scientists. “Why this brilliant purple, the dark reds, these amazing colors at depths where there is no light? I can’t tell you,” Osborn said. “Here, where there is no light at all except that produced by organisms, there seems no reason to spend energy making yourself these colors when nothing can see them.”