A new bone-eating creature has been discovered by scientists who dropped dead alligators onto the sea floor. One of the alligators was eaten clean to the bone within 51 days, completely devoid of all soft tissue.
In February 2019, researchers from the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON) executed the very first experiment on reptile falls in the ocean. Scientists dropped dead alligators 2,000 meters onto the ocean floor to discover what creatures are lurking in the deep dark ocean.
Marine scientists are particularly fond of the research done by fall experiments. That's when dead animals fall to the bottom of the ocean, as it provides unparalleled insights into deep-sea ecosystems and food webs.
The LUMCON team’s goal was to discover how deep-dwelling creatures in the Gulf of Mexico would react to an uncommon food source, such as the alligators, used in the experiment.
Scientists released their study, including their findings and other information on what happened at these gator buffets.
One of the study authors, River Dixon, stated last year that; “There is actually really good evidence that alligators make it out into the gulf offshore during major flooding events, especially because we have two major river outlets here. So, we had good evidence that there were alligators out there but we didn’t know what that meant for the deep sea.”
In the study, which was published in PLOS One, the team revealed that they first thought that the tough hides of the three American alligators would potentially impede some scavengers, however the experiment proved them wrong.
The study explained that one alligator was overrun with giant pink isopods (Bathynomus giganteus).
Isopods are foot-long scavengers known to respond to food pretty quickly. The study revealed that, within 24 hours, the isopods penetrated the hide, burrowed their way through the skin, and started eating their meal from the inside out.
However, this experiment provided the researchers with the first evidence of a brand new species of bone-eating worm.
The worm, which has a brown-reddish fuzz, appears to be a new member of the Osedax family. They are sometimes known as zombie worms. This was the first discovery of any Osedax that has been seen in the Gulf of Mexico.
Coming to the third alligator, the study revealed that it has suffered an unknown fate. The first observations of it was taken eight days later and scientists found an empty rope. The shackle, the 20-kilogram weight, and part of the line which was used to keep the alligator down, were found nearby, however there was no evidence of the alligator. Scientists believe that a predator might have snaffled the alligator, one that is known not to share its food.
After calculating what could drag the combined weight of the alligator carcass and other heavy items, and also had the strength to bite through the rope clean, scientists believe that it might have been the work of a large shark, most likely a Greenland or sixgill.