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400 Million-Year-Old Marine Worm with Terrifying Snapping Jaws Found in Canadian Museum

Feb 23, 2017 11:48 AM EST

An international team of scientists found that an ancient fossil stored in a Canadian museum since mid-1990s actually belong to a new species of extinct primordial worm with terrifying snapping jaws.

The new species, described in a paper published in the journal Scientific Reports, is considered to be a giant extinct bristle worm, or the marine relatives of earthworms and leeches, that roamed the sea about 400 million years ago.

"Gigantism in animals is an alluring and ecologically important trait, usually associated with advantages and competitive dominance," said lead author Mats Eriksson from Lund University, in a press release. "It is, however, a poorly understood phenomenon among marine worms and has never before been demonstrated in a fossil species.

The fossil, which only contained jaws, first came to the attention of the researchers in 2014. However, the researchers did not think much of the specimen during that time until Eriksson saw the scale bar and thought that the fossil might be the largest known jaws that belong to segmented worms.

Normally, fossil jaws from ancient worms are only a few millimeters in size and need to be studied under a microscope. However, the fossil jaw stored in the Royal Ontario Museum is easily visible to the naked eye, reaching over one centimeter in length.

In comparison with living species, the size of the jaw suggests that its owner has reached over a meter in body length. Just like the giant eunicid species, or colloquially known as "Bobbit worm", the new species use its terrifying snapping jaws to capture their prey and drag it to their burrows.

The researchers named the giant worm Websteroprion armstrongi in honor of its collector, Derek K Armstrong, and the bass player of the death metal band Cannibal Corpse, Alex Webster.

Armstrong collected the fossil in June 1994, during an investigation at a remote and temporary exposure in Ontario. The collected specimens were brought back to the Royal Ontario Museum and has been stored there since then.

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