Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

Acid-Drenched, Corpse-Eating Bone Worms Exist

An Osedax worm secretes acid to penetrate bone. Greg Rouse/Scripps
An Osedax worm secretes acid to penetrate bone. Greg Rouse/Scripps

If you've ever watched "Frozen Planet," then you know a dead whale makes for quite the seafloor ecosystem. Various scavengers move in to claim a share of the spoils -- including the mouthless, gutless Osedax worms that long exclusively for the delicious taste of bone.

How do they do it? How do they break into the bone vault for all those nutrients? Thanks to a new study from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, we have an answer.

According to researchers Martín Tresguerres, Sigrid Katz, and Greg Rouse, the creature pumps out bone-melting acid to tunnel its way in after delicious collagen and lipids. But here's where it gets even more amazing: According to Tresguerres, this process is very similar to how mammals repair and remodel bones, only in reverse.

The next step for the researchers? Gaining a better understanding of how they absorb the bone nutrients they unlock -- a goal they'll pursue in collaboration with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.

About the Author: Robert Lamb is a senior writer and host at HowStuffWorks, where he co-hosts Stuff to Blow Your Mind. An avid science enthusiast, he boasts a deep love for monsters and a hankering for electronic music.

More to Explore