New Species of Sea Worm Named After Star Wars' Yoda

10/12/2012

Science-100812-001-617x416
Photo: University of Aberdeen

It doesn't really come from a galaxy far, far away, though according to the scientists who discovered it, it does share a striking resemblance to a certain loveable Star Wars character. Meet the Yoda worm, one of three new species of deep-sea acorn worms recently discovered by scientists who were operating a remotely-controlled submersible along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, between Iceland and the Azores.

The worm's official name is actually Yoda purpurata, which technically means "Purple Yoda." The creature's purplish lips, which flop about on each side of its head, reminded the researchers of the Jedi master. The animal is described in the September issue of the journal Invertebrate Biology.

Researchers are particularly interested in acorn worms like the Yoda worm because they represent a close evolutionary link between vertebrates and invertebrates. (You might say that the 'evolutionary force' is strong with these ones).

"There is much interest in acorn worms from the point of view of understanding the early evolution of the vertebrates. Whilst they are not strictly a missing link in our own evolution, they give an insight into what the lifestyle of our remote ancestors might have been like," said Professor Monty Priede, from the University of Aberdeen, to the Guardian.

The worms live about a mile and a half deep under the ocean, on the seafloor, where they leave spiral traces of poo which resemble crop circles. These strange 'spirals' were a complete mystery to science until recently, when scientists were surprised to observe them being made by the squiggly movements of these deep sea worms.

Interestingly enough, the Yoda worm is just one of a long list of strange creatures to be named after celebrities, characters or politicians. For instance, a horsefly with a particularly spectacular backside was recently named after Beyoncé, a fish parasite has been named in honor of Jamaican singer-songwriter Bob Marley, and several slime molds have been named after prominent Republicans George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.

By Bryan Nelson


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