A worm with more butts than you could shake a stick at has been discovered in Japan, inspiring scientists to name it after the three-headed monster — and Godzilla’s arch-nemesis — King Ghidorah. Researchers found the bootylicious branched seaworm hiding inside sponges off the Island of Sado, and after discovering that, like King Ghidorah but without the radiation, it could regenerate, named it Ramisyllis kingghidorahi.
“King Ghidorah is a branching fictitious animal that can regenerate its lost ends,” said Professor M. Teresa Aguado of the University of Göttingen in a statement, who was sent photos of the seaworm by the researchers in Japan. “So, we thought this was an appropriate name for the new species of branching worm.” The findings were published in Organisms Diversity & Evolution
The worms, known to fancy folks as Annelida, are a force to be reckoned with sitting at over 20,000 known species, but of these only two were known to have a highly modified body pattern seen in branching marine worms. That’s all changed with the arrival of R. kingghidorahi, which becomes branching seaworm species number 3, joining Syllis ramosa McIntosh, discovered in 1879 in the Philippines, and Ramisyllis multicaudata, spotted back in 2012 north of Australia.
“We were astonished to find another of these bizarre creatures with only one head and a body formed from multiple branching,” continued Aguado. “The first worm was thought to be unique. This discovery reveals a higher diversity of these tree-like animals than anyone expected.”
The three species share a common ancestor but analyses by the researchers revealed high genetic divergence as well as differences in their body plan and ecology. Features that they share tell us a little about the evolutionary origins of a branching body plan, and include the ability to grow new butts (common among worms), regenerate broken butts, and sprout multiple segments during reproduction. Sexy.
The complex body pattern of R. kingghidorahi is certainly something to behold. The head-end, by the way, is the singular extension to the left of the orangey blob (seen in the photo at the top). To the right of that blob, things get a bit more complicated as its nether regions branch off into multiple posterior ends.
These many ends weave through the internal plumbing of the sponge R. kingghidorahi lives within, a behavior which leaves the authors on the study with a few more questions about our multi-butted seaworm.
“Scientists don’t yet understand the nature of the relationship between the branching worm and its host sponge,” said Aguado. “Is it a symbiotic relationship where both creatures somehow benefit? And how do the worms manage to feed to maintain their huge bodies having just one tiny mouth in their single head?”
To be continued…