Researchers discovered the fossil of a gigantic worm that lived during the Devonian period. The specimen is an example of gigantism that was a specific characteristic for the prehistoric periods.
It is quite uncommon now to see animals of incredibly large sizes on land or even in oceans, where the human activity is a bit more limited. However, during the prehistoric eras, gigantism was a standard, starting with dinosaurs which were one of the best examples of huge specimens.
Many other animals that lived during that period had enormous sizes. Following the evolutionary pathways of the time, even worms were much bigger than they are now.
The fossil of the newly discovered worm, called Websteroprion armstrongi, is 400 million years old and shows how the animal grew an extra meter in length over the current standard and it had an unusually large mouth for a worm, of over a centimeter.
The mouth is the element that stands out about this worm, since it is visible to the naked eye. Usually, scientists had to use microscopes to look at the jaws of other worm species. This species of worm is known only on the basis of its jaws, while the length of its body is extrapolated from its size.
The fossils were found back in June 1994, when the discoverer, Derek K. Armstrong of Ontario Geological Survey, was dropped from a helicopter in a remote area in Ontario to study rocks and fossils for a few hours.
Since then, the fossils had been stored at the Royal Ontario Museum until now, when the authors of the study noticed them and decided to perform a more thorough analysis of them.
Mats Eriksson, one of the authors of the study from Lund University in Sweden, declared that gigantism in animals was important and it offered advantages and more competitive skills. However, it has not been studied in marine worms and it is the first time when such traits are found in a fossil.
From the currently existing marine worms, Websteroprion armstrongi resembles Eunice aphroditois, also known as the Bobbit worm. It lives in the warm waters of the Atlantic and Indo-Pacific Oceans, can reach 3 meters, and its sharp teeth can slice its prey in half.
The name of the worm comes from both the discoverer of the fossil, Derek K. Armstrong, and also from the bass player of the death metal band Cannibal Corpse, Alex Webster, who is regarded by many of the researchers (who are avid music fans) as a giant of the bass guitar.
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