Bone-Eating Zombie Worms

Osedax roseusThe DpSU for Friday turned out to be called ‘Zombie Worms’ Ate Mediterranean Fossil.

The situation here is that we have some worms of the genus Osedax that bore into bones to get at trapped lipids. Idea is that:

…then all those large, bony marine creatures—and birds—that were fossilized alongside dinosaurs must also have been deposited, buried, and mineralized rapidly to avoid destruction by Osedax.

(The quote makes slightly more sense in context, but then that reduces its explanatory usefulness). What he’s trying to prove is that the fossilisation process must be much faster than generally thought, so as to allow in the rather short timescales of young-Earth creationism which otherwise would be impossible.

The biggest problem with this is that the part of fossilisation that requires all the time is the mineralisation process. That is to say, the replacing of the soft, organic tissues with minerals. But while he lumps that process into the list of things that must happen quickly, the bones would only be required to be buried before the worms got to it, not mineralised. So this doesn’t help his case – we already know that things need to be buried fast.

The specific find is a partially-bored whale bone from three million years ago in the Mediterranean. It’s interesting because a) we haven’t yet found the genus in the Mediterranean sea and b) it shows that there must have been these worms in the Atlantic as well as the Med. had dried up for a while a few million years earlier and was recolonised from the Atlantic.

Reading through the Wikipedia article for the genus I find this quote:

…cases of food falls in which the remains disappeared too swiftly for Osedax colonization…

Basically, Osedax isn’t even necessary for bones to ‘dissolve’ at times. There is only so much damage that they could have done over the years to the fossil record. You can’t really say that all remains would have been destroyed (by Osedax or otherwise) if there was no global calamity involved, which is the other thing that Mr Thomas is driving at. We don’t even know at this stage to what degree the genus eats things that aren’t whalebones!

Bones may get eaten, but you can’t eat them all and it’s not as if we have all the bones ever as fossils in our museums. Zombie worms or not, it’s not inconceivable (just extremely unlikely) that, should you drown in the ocean and your body is never recovered, you will still fossilise.

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