Tapeworm discovery in prehistoric domestic dog

Echinococcus granulosus tapeworm

From the Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 50, October 2014, Pages 51–62:

Multicomponent analyses of a hydatid cyst from an Early Neolithic hunter–fisher–gatherer from Lake Baikal, Siberia


Echinococcus granulosus infection in an 8000-year-old forager from Siberia.

Differential diagnosis of egg-like, multi-chambered ovoid calcifications.

Stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes of a parasitic hydatid cyst.


Calcified biological objects are occasionally found at archaeological sites and can be challenging to identify. This paper undertakes the differential diagnosis of what we suggest is an Echinococcus granulosus hydatid cyst from an 8000-year-old mortuary site called Shamanka II in the Lake Baikal region of Siberia. Echinococcus is a parasitic tapeworm that needs two hosts to complete its life cycle: herbivores and humans are intermediate hosts, and carnivores such as dogs, wolves, and foxes are definitive hosts.

In the intermediate host the Echinococcus egg hatches in the digestive system, penetrates the intestine, and is carried via the bloodstream to an organ, where it settles and turns into an ovoid calcified structure called a hydatid cyst. For this object, identification was based on macroscopic, radiographic, and stable isotope analysis. High-resolution computed tomography scanning was used to visualize the interior structure of the object, which is morphologically consistent with the E. granulosus species (called cystic Echinococcus).

Stable isotope analysis of the extracted mineral and protein components of the object narrowed down the range of species from which it could come. The stable carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios of the object’s protein, and stable carbon isotope ratio of the mineral, closely match those of the likely human host. Additionally, the δ13C protein-to-mineral spacing is very low, which fits expectations for a parasitic organism. To our knowledge this is the first isotopic characterization of a hydatid cyst and this method may be useful for future studies. The hydatid cyst most likely came from a probable female adult. Two additional hydatid cysts were found in a young adult female from a contemporaneous mortuary site in the same region, Lokomotiv. This manuscript ends with a brief discussion [of] the importance of domesticated dogs in the disease’s occurrence and the health implication of echinococcal infection for these Early Neolithic hunter–fisher–gatherers.

Hoopoe eats worm, video

In this video from the Netherlands, a hoopoe eats a worm.

Saskia Verberne made this video.

Hoopoe in Katwijk, photos here.

Antarctica’s First Whale Skeleton Discovered

This video from Antarctica is about a minke whale playing with a zodiac.

From ScienceDaily:

Antarctica’s First Whale Skeleton Found With Nine New Deep-Sea Species

Mar. 18, 2013 — Marine biologists have, for the first time, found a whale skeleton on the ocean floor near Antarctica, giving new insights into life in the sea depths. The discovery was made almost a mile below the surface in an undersea crater and includes the find of at least nine new species of deep-sea organisms thriving on the bones.

The research, involving the University of Southampton, Natural History Museum, British Antarctic Survey, National Oceanography Centre (NOC) and Oxford University, is published today in Deep-Sea Research II: Topical Studies in Oceanography.

The planet’s largest animals are also a part of the ecology of the very deep ocean, providing a rich habitat of food and shelter for deep sea animals for many years after their death,” says Diva Amon, lead author of the paper based at University of Southampton Ocean and Earth Science (which is based at NOC) and the Natural History Museum. “Examining the remains of this southern Minke whale gives insight into how nutrients are recycled in the ocean, which may be a globally important process in our oceans.”

Worldwide, only six natural whale skeletons have ever been found on the seafloor. Scientists have previously studied whale carcasses, known as a ‘whale fall‘, by sinking bones and whole carcasses. Despite large populations of whales in the Antarctic, whale falls have not been studied in this region until now.

“At the moment, the only way to find a whale fall is to navigate right over one with an underwater vehicle,” says co-author Dr Jon Copley of University of Southampton Ocean and Earth Science. Exploring an undersea crater near the South Sandwich Islands gave scientists just that chance encounter. “We were just finishing a dive with the UK’s remotely operated vehicle, Isis, when we glimpsed a row of pale-coloured blocks in the distance, which turned out to be whale vertebrae on the seabed,” continues Dr Copley.

When a whale dies and sinks to the ocean floor, scavengers quickly strip its flesh. Over time, other organisms then colonise the skeleton and gradually use up its remaining nutrients. Bacteria break down the fats stored in whale bones, for example, and in turn provide food for other marine life. Other animals commonly known as zombie worms can also digest whale bone.

“One of the great remaining mysteries of deep ocean biology is how these tiny invertebrates can spread between the isolated habitats these whale carcasses provide on the seafloor,” says co-author Dr Adrian Glover at the Natural History Museum. ‘Our discovery fills important gaps in this knowledge.’

The team surveyed the whale skeleton using high-definition cameras to examine the deep-sea animals living on the bones and collected samples to analyse ashore. Researchers think that the skeleton may have been on the seafloor for several decades. Samples also revealed several new species of deep-sea creatures thriving on the whale’s remains, including a ‘bone-eating zombie worm‘ known as Osedax burrowing into the bones and a new species of isopod crustacean, similar to woodlice, crawling over the skeleton. There were also limpets identical to those living at nearby deep-sea volcanic vents.

New Species of Naked Bone-Eating Worms in Antarctica: here.

An American Shutdown Reaches the Earth’s End & damages years of work on Antartica, while ice melts evidence away: here.

It’s official: The coldest place on Earth is a high ridge on the East Antarctic Plateau: here.

Worm species discovery, new for Europe

Limnodrilus tortilipenis

Limnodrilus tortilipenis is a segmented worm species from North America.

In 2006, this freshwater worm was found for the first time in Europe: in the Netherlands. In 2011, three more individuals were discovered, also in the Netherlands.

There has been a publication on this: Munts, R. & D.M. Soes, 2012. Limnodrilus tortilipenis Wetzel, 1987 (Oligochaeta), a new alien species for the Netherlands. Lauterbornia 75: 43-47.

Luminous sharks, new research

Luminous shark, caught off Taiwan

From the BBC:

26 April 2012 Last updated at 07:47

Tiny sharks provide glowing clue

By Ella Davies

Reporter, BBC Nature

Tiny sharks in South East Asia have helped scientists to understand the origins of glowing shark species.

A number of deep-dwelling sharks have special light-emitting organs on their undersides that allow them to glow.

A study of pygmy sharks now suggests the ability to control the trick evolved from a shallow water ancestor.

Dr Julien Claes from the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium led the research.

He said: “bioluminescence remains one of the most mysterious areas of shark biology.”

The findings are published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

According to Dr Claes more than 10% of currently described shark species are luminous.

Scientists refer to the glow as “counter-illumination”: without it, anything looking upwards for a meal would easily see the sharks’ bodies silhouetted against the bright sky above.

Previous studies have shown that lantern sharks, named for their glow, also use this ability to communicate.

By producing a hormone called prolactin, the sharks can exhibit bursts of blue light, which they use to communicate with others in dark water, where visual clues are minimal.

Tiny fish, big clue

In order to compare the ability across species, Dr Claes chose to investigate smalleye pygmy sharks.

The diminuitive fish measures just 22cm long and is one of the smallest shark species.

At night the tiny sharks swim at depths of around 200m, moving down to 2,000m during the day.

During his analysis Dr Claes discovered a significant difference between the pygmy sharks and their larger cousins.

“The hormone prolactin – that triggers light from [lantern sharks] – actually had an opposite action in the pygmy shark, switching off its luminescence,” he explained.

Dr Claes suggested that the apparently less advanced glow control in pygmy sharks provided a clue as to how the ability evolved.

“It is likely that the control of shark [luminescence] evolved from the [camouflage] of shallow water sharks,” he told BBC Nature.

Sharks in shallow seas can fall prey to threats from above, but as a defence they are able to vary the colours on their skin to blend in with their environment.

By producing different hormones, they can trigger darker and lighter patches of skin and, Dr Claes explained, this is the basis for deep sea species’ glowing control.

For both smalleye pygmy sharks and lantern sharks the light-emitting organs glow constantly, but by triggering the light and dark coloured skin patches over them, the sharks can effectively switch this light on and off.

“This result is very important, since it gives clues to the evolutionary pathway taken by a soft-tissue phenomenon which leaves no or extremely few fossil tracks,” said Dr Claes.

Glowing animal facts

Sharks are not the only species that glow to hide in the deep ocean: some species of squid combine bioluminescent bacteria and light organs for camouflage
The anglerfish famously uses a glowing lure to capture the attention of its prey
The shrimp Acanthephyra purpurea squirts a glowing cloud to defend itself from predators

Watch video featuring a bioluminescent “vampire squid from hell“: here.

See also here. And here. And here.

Photon Hunting in the Twilight Zone: Visual Features of Mesopelagic Bioluminescent Sharks: here.

ScienceDaily (Apr. 27, 2012) — Many shark populations have plummeted in the past three decades as a result of excessive harvesting — for their fins, as an incidental catch of fisheries targeting other species, and in recreational fisheries. This is particularly true for oceanic species. However, until now, a lack of data prevented scientists from properly quantifying the status of Pacific reef sharks at a large geographic scale: here.

One common sea worm has a rather uncommon trick: Chaeteopterus variopedatus – also known as the parchment tube worm for the paperlike tubes it builds for itself and lives within throughout its life — secretes a bioluminescent mucus that makes it glow blue: here.

Ovenbirds’ earthworm problems

A recent decline in ovenbirds (Seiurus aurocapilla), a ground-nesting migratory songbird, in forests in the northern Midwest United States is being linked by scientists to a seemingly unlikely culprit: earthworms: here.

Nicolea zostericola worms in the Dutch Oosterschelde: here.

“Whalebone-eating worms originated in age of dinosaurs”

This video from the USA is called “OSEDAX: How Many Males Do You Want?” by Laura E. Escobosa.

From LiveScience:

Boneworms Gnawed on Ancient Reptile Corpses

Charles Q. Choi, LiveScience Contributor

Date: 12 April 2011 Time: 07:01 PM ET

Bone-gnawing worms that feast on whale carcasses at the bottom of the ocean may be far more ancient than scientists previously thought, scavenging corpses in the abyss long before mammals ever began living at sea.

Marine boneworms, known as Osedax, were first discovered in 2002 off the coast of California in an underwater valley called the Monterey Submarine Canyon. These eyeless, mouthless creatures feed by digging rootlike structures into bone, with symbiotic bacteria helping to release nutrients from the skeletons that they can then absorb.

These worms have only been found on the cadavers of sunken whales or other mammals, suggesting that Osedax is a whalebone specialist. To investigate this notion, scientists deployed bones of tuna, cow and other animals in wire cages placed about 3,300 feet (1,000 meters) deep in the Monterey Canyon for five months. The bones were placed next to the carcass of a blue whale. [Image of female Osedax worm]

The researchers found that three Osedax species known to live off whalebone were consuming the fish and cow bones.

“The results allowed us to clearly show that Osedax are not whalebone specialists and are in fact generalists on vertebrate bones,” researcher Greg Rouse, a marine biologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, told LiveScience.

Past research had suggested that boneworms may have evolved 75 million to 130 million years ago in the Cretaceous period, before the end of the age of dinosaurs and well before the origin of whales and other marine mammals. These creatures might have first dined on the bones of fish, turtles, birds and now-extinct marine reptiles such as mosasaurs and plesiosaurs.

“Establishing that the boneworms can in fact eat fishbones — and big fish were plentiful in the Cretaceous — means that the Cretaceous origin of Osedax is possible,” Rouse said.

The researchers had also put shark cartilage in the cages, but these had disintegrated by the time they recovered the cages, making it inconclusive as to whether boneworms might live off shark remains as well.

“We have new, larger shark vertebrae and jaws submerged at present,” Rouse said.

The scientists detailed their findings April 13 in the journal Biology Letters.

Not whale-fall specialists, Osedax worms also consume fishbone: here.

Study Finds Osedax Worms Use Bone-Melting Acid: here.

Osedax, ‘Zombie’ Worm, Evidence Found In Mediterranean: here.

New “devil worm” is deepest-living animal: here.

Video of amazing underwater ocean canyons, home to otherworldly marine life: here.

The List: 5 Weirdest Worms at the Smithsonian: here.

Weird Deep-Sea Worms Discovered in Caribbean: here.