DNA analysis has established the creatures, captured by researchers from the Aberdeen University’s Oceanlab on a voyage to the mid-Atlantic, are members of the Torquaratoridae, a recently discovered family of invertebrates known as “acorn worms”. Scientists believe their discovery – more than two miles down in the Atlantic – could provide a new insight into the evolution of life on Earth. Professor Monty Priede, director of Oceanlab, said the worms were captured last year using a remote vehicle launched from the research ship RRS James Cook.
The worms have no eyes nor tail but manage to crawl, harvesting food that falls to the sea floor. He said: “Acorn worms are burrowing animals related to the ancestors of back-boned animals. They are perceived as an evolutionary dead end, having been surpassed by their cousins, the fishes which acquired tails became fast swimmers, conquered the oceans and gave rise to reptiles, mammals and birds.
“However the Torquaratoridae have not stood still. On the contrary they crawl over the sea floorleaving a characteristic spiral trail behind. They have also been observed to make swimming movements to drift between feeding territories..”