How do zombie worms eat?

Digestion Read more from
Chapter Anatomy: Animals Inside

Yes, the ocean contains worms—the so-called zombie worms (genus Osedax)— that seem to like the taste of whale bones. Scientists have discovered that these creatures may like to munch the bones, but without any mouth parts or a digestive tract, for that matter—how the animals eat has long been a mystery. In 2013, scientists finally made the discovery—the bone-drilling worms actually produce acid in large quantities. The acid is produced by what are called proton pumps, or protein-containing structures that exist at the front end of the worm’s body (to compare, human kidneys use similar proton pumps to process wastes). How they process the dissolved bone as food is still a question, but one suggestion is that symbiotic bacteria may be involved.


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