A few years ago, scientists at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) noticed a fuzzy coating on the skeletons of whales that had died and fallen to the sea floor. On closer examination, they found a whole new species of worm, that makes a living on expired whale bones.
Since that time, they have been astonished to find a number of different varieties of these "bone-eating" worms. The mystery was, how did they come to colonize the new fallen whales?
Some of these mysteries are now being revealed with the help of one our own husbandry staff, here at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Senior Aquarist Chad Widmer, who spends much of his time figuring out how to display new types of animals - especially jellies - has found ways to keep these worms in a laboratory setting. Chad explains, "I’ve been out several times with the MBARI group collecting bone eating worms. Mainly I just want to pick through their trash because it is covered with jellyfish polyps! But I also figured out the husbandry requirements for keeping bone worms alive in captivity. In fact I developed the methods used by most bone worm researchers today. They used to be able to keep them for a week or two at the most. And now they can keep them indefinitely."
The latest research "Queen of Decay" is editor's choice in this week's edition of Science magazine.