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Science Imitates Art

November 13, 2009

Rheanna Sand

Science in Seconds Blog by Rheanna Sand

If you would have told me ten years ago that a video game character was going to be discovered in nature, I never would've suspected bomb-throwing worms. I suppose they are more likely than, say, a yellow circle chomping on little yellow squares, but maybe less likely than a giant ape throwing barrels of hot oil (that's Pac-Man and Donkey Kong for you neophytes).

Yes, bomb-throwing worms were discovered in the deep waters of the northeast and western Pacific Ocean. The authors, Karen Osborn and colleagues, place this worm in a new category within a group known as Annelids.

Your typical earthworm is an annelid, with its very clear segmentation and wave-like movements. The bomber worms, having to move through the water rather than through dirt, have large bristled swimming paddles running the length of its body instead of the tiny, almost invisible bristles of earthworms. They also have some rather pretty colours in their outer layer, or cuticle.

Of course the bombs are the coolest bit - these detachable cylinders glow bright green when they are released. A very advantageous adaptation...I know if I was a worm only 2 to 10cm long, I would appreciate a little fireworks to distract an ugly deep sea predator. Or maybe, just maybe to impress that cute worm eyeing me from across the benthos.

The authors mention that detaching of glowing structures has been seen before in a squid and a brittle star. However, as far as I know, there are no video games with squids killing each other with shotguns and uzis, or of starfish defeating each other with bombs like in the Worms video game. This discovery is therefore much, much cooler.

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