I study some of the weirdest animals from whale-fall habitats, Osedax worms. This specialised group makes a living by boring into and eating the whale bones – and they do this without any mouth, gut or hard parts! Instead they use fleshy root tissues that grow into the bones, dissolving it to obtain nutrition.
I have been looking at how they bore into the bone and what these borings look like. Using micro-CT scanning I can explore the bones in 3-D and see just how the worms make their borings.
These characteristic traces can also be found in fossil whale bones, making it possible to trace them through the fossil record. These traces have been found on fossil bones of early whale species (~30 million years old), suggesting that they have been living on whale skeletons since the very first whales evolved. However, before the great whales, there were also huge marine reptiles roaming the oceans.
In 2015, my colleague Silvia Danise and I published the first evidence that Osedax actually evolved long before whales, and indeed lived on the skeletons of marine reptiles like plesiosaurs and turtles! What's more, these fossil traces proved that the whole Siboglinidae family of worms were much older than previous estimates.