Worms From Hell: Halicephalobus mephisto Discovered in South Africa

By on Jun 3, 2011 in Africa, Amazing, Animals, Science Comments

A new species of worm, Halicephalobus mephisto, has been discovered by scientists at least 0.8 miles (1.3 kilometers) below the surface of the Earth, international science news sites reported on Wednesday, June 1, 2011.

Worm from Hell: Halicephalobus mephisto
Worm from Hell: Halicephalobus mephisto
Credit: University Ghent, Belgium – Gaetan Borgonie

According to a report from the journal Nature, the worm is the deepest living multicellular organism ever found. It was said that the report on Nature would have titled “Worms from Hell” but the journal did not go for that.

The worm was said to be discovered on the deep mines of South Africa, which is more than 1.8 miles (3km) deep. To find the worm, Tullis Onstott of Princeton University and his team reportedly sampled water from the mine boreholes. They also sampled 40,000 gallons of surface water to make sure that the worm did not come from above.

The worm, which is 0.02-inch-long (0.5 millimeters), thrives in fluid-filled rock fractures where it feeds on bacteria, Onstott reportedly told LiveScience.

“It’s kind of like finding Moby Dick in Lake Ontario,” Onstott was quoted saying. “It’s so volumetrically big. It’s 10 billion times the size of the bacteria upon which it feeds.”

Reports said that chemical analysis of the water in which the worm lives dates back at least 2,900 years ago, which means that the worm has been down there for a while. Laboratory experiments were said to reveal that the worm prefers to eat bacteria found in deep rock fractures, ignoring other options such as the E. coli.

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