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05/12/2013 07:46 pm ET

'Zombie Worms' Devour Whale Bone With Skeleton-Melting Acid, New Study Finds (PHOTO)

Greg Rouse

A genus of mouthless, gutless worms use acid to drill into bones and feed on the remains of marine animals deep beneath the sea, according to a recent study.

Often referred to as "zombie worms," the creatures excrete a powerful acid and bore through whale bone to feast on the nutrients within, according to researchers with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. The findings were published on May 1 in the Proceedings of The Royal Society B.

The worms use a similar process to break down bone that's also found in humans to repair fractures. Scientists are still unsure how they feed without a mouth, but the creatures could have a symbiotic relationship with bacteria that metabolize organic compounds, according to a press release.

Although they're primarily found on whale bone, the worms have also been seen in shark remains and other fish, LiveScience reports.

The bone worms, comprising the genus Osedax, were first discovered by researchers with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in 2002 and have since been found around the planet.

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