The 400 million-year-old gigantic extinct monster worm – or how to write a catchy release

Credit: Luke Parry

I could probably start this post in a very traditional way by saying that “Researchers announced they have discovered a new extinct giant worm species in a fossil at the Royal Ontario Museum, in Canada”.

But I’d rather start it in a different way and just say that “researchers pull out the best release title in history by including in it all of the following words: 400 Million-Year-Old; Gigantic; Extinct; Monster; and Worm.”

Here is the actual headline: “400 million-year-old gigantic extinct monster worm discovered in Canadian museum”

This headline is so great it could perfectly fit as a description for a B-horror movie within the Tremors franchise (if you haven’t watched Tremors, I strongly recommend you do.).

Unfortunately, the headline is also a bit misleading. The newly described creature is only a “giant” if compared to other worms. It is a meter long -which is over 3 feet. A big worm indeed, but not as big as what I would expect from that headline…

Anyway, apart from the misleading-yet-cool headline, the research itself it very interesting. Scientists from the Royal Ontario museum, the University of Bristol and Lund University, in Sweden, were analyzing a fossil stored since the mid-1990s when they noticed strange shapes.

Looking closely, they were able to identify the worm’s body and jaws. According to their paper, these are the largest jaws ever recorded in this type of creature, reaching over one centimeter in length. In comparison to previously discovered fossilized worm jaws, with only millimeters in size, this is a big deal.

Another fun thing about the finding, published in Scientific Reports is the creature’s name: Websteroprion armstrongi. It is an homage to both Derek Armstrong, the researcher who discovered the fossils, and Alex Webster, bass player of a Death Metal band called Cannibal Corpse.

Apparently, all researchers involved in the worm finding also shared the same musical taste – and great sense of humor.

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