(Images via: SCC Science, Sabbah, Adventure Doc, Biology Blog, Frequenseanz)
At WebEcoist, we take great pride in educating you on the abnormal side of nature, biology and other aspects of the environment, with the New Year proving no different in the case of lungless and bone-eating worms, imprisoned and ancient bacteria, and slightly off-kilter octopuses. All of these living organisms have recently raised eyebrows for attributes or behavior that are certainly strange on the surface but really interesting when understanding the reasoning behind the apparent weirdness or madness.
Breathe In, Breathe Out You Giant, Lungless Worm
(Images via: Free Republic, World of Jah)
Recently in Guyana, researchers discovered a strange-looking worm to say the least (as seen in the above pictures) that is believed to be only the second known lungless caecilian (an order of amphibians resembling worms or snakes). Sans nostrils, lungs or legs, the giant, lungless worm is known as Caecilita iwokramae and absorbs oxygen through its skin. Reaching up to 27.5 inches in length, this giant, lungless worm is aquatic and thus unlike other caecilita that live on land and are also much smaller (roughly 4.4 inches long). The unearthing of Caecilita iwokramae follows the 1995 discovery of the first lungless caecilian and a similar 2008 finding of a lungless frog. According to researchers, lunglessness is more likely to appear in smaller animals where the area of porous skin is increased in relation to body mass, thus making it easier to absorb oxygen.
Born to Squirm and Return: The Whale Bone-Eating Worms
(Images via: Driftline, National Geographic, Info Cult, Nautre, Science Blogs)
Speaking of worms, scientists have been pleasantly surprised to find all sorts of new worms that make a living on feasting on whale bones. As one example, the Osedax yellow-collared worm was first discovered in 2004, with new species quickly springing up anywhere from slightly less than 100 feet to nearly 10,000 feet below the waters of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Amazingly, these and other whale bone-eating worms subsist only on the bones of perished whales, which can provide enough food for 20 years and feed generations of these hungry, hungry, new worms.
Solitary Confinement: Only the Lonely and Angry Bacterium
(Images via: Estimate of the Situation, My MRSA Blog, The Foot Blog, Antrhoflex)
Recent advances in nanotechnology have allowed researchers to imprison bacterium (the singular version of bacteria) and learn some amazing things about these tiny organisms. While trapped in glass cages that were only 20 micrometers wide, single Staphylococcus aureus (a bacteria that is seen in the top right/bottom images and known for causing serious, life-threatening infections) was able to alter its gene expression, something that scientists thought could only occur when dozens or hundreds of bacteria were packed together, according to new research. For some more context, bacteria communicate with each other through a chemical process called quorum sensing, which allows them to change their behavior, turn some genes on and off, and take on different roles within the pack. In the case of the bacterium that was trapped in the glass cage, it could tell that its chemical communication was going nowhere but still made genetic adaptations, specifically by producing chemical bombs called lysosomes. Typically, lysosomes eat away at whatever they touch; of course, they proved ineffective at breaking through the glass in the case of the imprisoned bacterium. Still, by producing the lysosomes, the trapped Staphylococcus aureus showed that only a quorum of one is needed for bacterial genetic alteration, a finding that researchers suggest could eventually help them understand how to prevent individual Staph cells from becoming full-out infections.
Suspended in Animation: Long-Living, Salad-Eating Bacteria
(Images via: Wever, History for Kids, Moolf, IUPUI)
Not to keep grossing you out, but bacteria is proving itself fascinating. Recently, researchers discovered ancient microscopic bacteria (more specifically, Archaea microbes) buried in the salt flats of California’s Death Valley (top right image). According to the researchers, the Archaea (top left and bottom images) had been subsisting on just a few cells of algae for the past 34,000 years. Only 1/25,000 of an inch long (a micron), the Archaea microbes apparently went into suspended animation, ceasing all operations with the exception of sipping the nutrients of algae that had been encased in the salt, a process that likely allowed the bacteria to repair gradual damage to their DNA. According to the researchers, a single bacterium may be sustained by a single algae cell for 12 million years!
Veined Octopuses Are Nuts about Coconuts
(Images via: Bukisa, Dark Roasted Blend, Flickr, Dive Rosa)
On a lighter note, a recent study noted how veined octopuses have a bizarre affinity for coconut shells. More specifically, these 3-inch-wide octopi were found digging up both halves of coconut shells and then carrying these items with their 6-inch-tentacles. Especially interesting, the octopuses walked with the coconut shells, strangely appearing as if they were moving across the muddy ocean bottom on stilts. According to the researchers, the octopuses may be slowed down by the coconut shells but value them for hiding and protection, as this video wonderfully depicts.