, Volume 98, Issue 1, pp 51-55,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 20 Nov 2010

Osedax borings in fossil marine bird bones

Abstract

The bone-eating marine annelid Osedax consumes mainly whale bones on the deep-sea floor, but recent colonization experiments with cow bones and molecular age estimates suggesting a possible Cretaceous origin of Osedax indicate that this worm might be able grow on a wider range of substrates. The suggested Cretaceous origin was thought to imply that Osedax could colonize marine reptile or fish bones, but there is currently no evidence that Osedax consumes bones other than those of mammals. We provide the first evidence that Osedax was, and most likely still is, able to consume non-mammalian bones, namely bird bones. Borings resembling those produced by living Osedax were found in bones of early Oligocene marine flightless diving birds (family Plotopteridae). The species that produced these boreholes had a branching filiform root that grew to a length of at least 3 mm, and lived in densities of up to 40 individuals per square centimeter. The inclusion of bird bones into the diet of Osedax has interesting implications for the recent suggestion of a Cretaceous origin of this worm because marine birds have existed continuously since the Cretaceous. Bird bones could have enabled this worm to survive times in the Earth’s history when large marine vertebrates other than fish were rare, specifically after the disappearance of large marine reptiles at the end-Cretaceous mass extinction event and before the rise of whales in the Eocene.