Thursday, March 15, 2007
For most, an ugly worm isn’t much to get excited about—especially one as unattractive as Chaetopterus pugaporcinus, the newly understood underwater critter whose name is Latin for worm “that looks like the rump of a pig.” It gives “butt ugly” new meaning.
But Dr. Karen Osborn of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), who recently released a study on the curious new specimen, is genuinely thrilled. She believes she’s found something strangely beautiful: a new species that may be making an evolutionary leap.
Out in the depths that MBARI scours by submersible, all other worms like this species stick to the mud.
“This is the first one of its kind,” she says, “that we’ve found living up in the water.”
When MBARI scientists first discovered pugaporcinus in 2001, they were so perplexed that they labeled it “Mystery Blob” and put it on the shelf. Osborn, though, was fascinated by the little guy.
“It’s quite unusual,” she says. “It’s gigantic—about 2 centimeters in diameter. The only question now is if it’s a larvae or a juvenile. If it is, then it’s 10 times bigger than typical larvae.”
Osborn has already mapped its genetic sequence. But to fully understand the worm, Osborn says, more specimens must be dissected. That’s a problem, since only eight have been collected.
“They’re too valuable [to dissect]. But that’s the only way we’ll understand exactly what we have here.”
MBARI spokesperson Kim Fulton-Bennett says this discovery should help unlock other puzzling secrets.
“It might help scientists find creatures with similar characteristics,” he says. “There are so many things floating out there that we don’t understand.”
FOR MORE on MBARI’s ongoing discoveries, visit mbari.org