A Field Guide to Penis Worm Teeth
Here’s another one for the “three words I never thought I would use consecutively,” list. Researchers at the University of Cambridge began indexing fossilized penis worm teeth to assist in identifying previously unknown fossilized specimens from the Cambrian period, 500 million years ago. The results were published in the journal Paleontology.
This is actually really important, believe it or not. Penis worms evolved into being during the “Cambrian explosion” where most major animal groups started to show up on the fossil record. At this point, most creatures were squishy, like sponges or worms, meaning that many creatures from this period can only be identified by their dental records.
The Cambridge researchers used electron microscopes to evaluate the structure of fossilized teeth that vary based on function: some are curved and prickly, some look like bear claws, and some are long and rectangular. Electron microscopy being necessary as the teeth are typically only a millimeter long, each.
Modern and historic penis worms are somewhat similar with teeth lining the throat that can be used to latch onto a surface when the mouth is inverted. At present the penis worms are extremophiles and not present in most environments, but Cambrian penis worms were predators quite capable of feasting on many of the creatures surrounding them.
It is possible that this meticulous work will help identify new species that may not have been subject to a careful enough paleo-dental exam. All I can say is, I can’t wait to run into the online dating profile of a person who studies penis worm teeth for a living.
Additional source: Phys.org
Image by Tom Harvey