Scientists have discovered an extinct 20-million year old predatory nightmare worm. The discovery brings us one step closer to the fictional lands of Tatooine from Star Wars or Arrakis in Dune. However, these giant worms actually existed and lived deep in the ocean. They would stay on the seabed in their underground domains "until they explode upwards grabbing unsuspecting prey with a snap of their powerful jaws." They would then take their prey, which was still alive, down into their L-shaped burrows to be devoured.
Ludvig Lowemark, a marine geoscientist at National Taiwan University in Taipei, led the study that found evidence of the ancient worm. Earlier this week, Lowemark and his team revealed their findings, noting that they believe it to be the ancient ancestor of the current-living Bobbit worm, which was named after the infamous 1993 incident involving John Wayne Bobbitt and Lorena Bobbitt. Lowemark and his team believe that their ancient worm used to terrorize the seafloor over 20 million years ago.
Marine worms are typically made of soft tissue, which means finding fossils, or any other evidence of their existence is difficult to find. However, Ludvig Lowemark and his crew were able to find their L-shaped burrows and study them. It is believed that these ancient predatory worms were at least 6 feet in length, meaning that they could easily take down a human being. Lowemark detailed their process, which you can read below.
"We studied all the specimens that we could find in the field by taking measurements on length, diameter, burrow structure etc. and a selected number of specimens were cut out using a rock cutter and analyzed in the lab. In addition, a few samples were polished in the field using a grinder to allow us to study serial vertical sections or the specimen by removing millimeter by millimeter of rock."
It took Ludvig Lowemark some time to find full fossils of these burrows. "In most cases, we could only see a part of the trace fossil because it is so large," he added, "but in a few lucky instances we found almost complete specimens." They believe that the worm, which they named, Pennichnus , was about as big as the diameter of the burrows they found. In Lowemark's study, he describes how the ancient nightmare worm would attack its prey. He explains.
"When prey came close to a worm, it exploded out from its burrow, grabbing and dragging the prey down into the sediment. Beneath the seafloor, the desperate prey foundered to escape, leading to further disturbance of the sediment around the burrow opening."
Ludvig Lowemark's study goes on to say, "The interpreted activities of the Pennichnus trace maker records a life and death struggle between predator and prey, and indirectly preserves evidence of a more diverse and robust paleo-ecosystem than can be interpreted from the fossil and trace fossil record alone." In other words, this was a massive discovery for scientists. Thanks to Lowemark's findings, research will dramatically improve the search for ancient marine worm fossils. For now, Lowemark and his team will study the Bobbit worm further to see if they can find more similarities with their new findings. The interview with Ludvig Lowemark was originally conducted by Vice. You can check out some footage of the Bobbit worm below.