The worms, found in a gray whale skeleton off the coast of California, prompted scientists to designate them as representatives of an entirely new genus, dubbed Osedax. They belonged to a taxonomic family of marine worms that lack mouths and anuses, and rely entirely on bacteria to absorb and excrete nutrients. But Osedax was unique: Adult males were extremely small, and lived in colonies inside the females. Even more strikingly, they occupied an evolutionary niche comprised entirely of fallen whales.
“Picture the bottom of the ocean. Anything below 1000 meters is fed entirely by ‘marine snow’ — the things that are supported by photosynthesis at the top of the ocean, and the things that eat them, and eventually fall to the ocean floor,” said Robert Vrijenhoek, a senior scientist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. “When a whale drops into your neighborhood, it’s roughly equivalent to 2000 years of marine snow falling in a millisecond.”
Ah, the diversity of life on our freaky planet.