"What would you name a new worm?" asks UK museum

Thu Sep 22, 2011 7:02pm EDT
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By Alice Baghdjian

LONDON (Reuters) - What name would you give to a species of Antarctic, sea-dwelling worm that spends its time 2,000 metres below the water's surface, wriggling in the rotting carcasses of whales?

The British public will get to name five newly discovered species of this deep-sea worm, the Natural History Museum in London said on Friday, as it opens its doors to explain that taxonomy -- the practice of naming new species -- is not taxing, but fun.

"Our goal is to show that taxonomy, the scientific discipline of naming new species, is interesting, fun and crucial to the advancement of science," zoologist at the National History Museum, Adrian Glover, said.

The unnamed worms are known as annelids, a group that also includes the familiar garden earthworm, as well as more unusual critters such as the giant hydrothermal vent tubeworm.

Deep sea annelids are an incredibly diverse group and scientists believe they perform vital recycling of nutrients on the seabed.

"These five species of worm are ecosystem engineers that hoover up the ocean floor, which is very important for the ecosystem. We know virtually nothing about these worms -- they don't even have a name yet," Glover told Reuters.

The scientific names given to animals must be comprised of two parts -- the genus and the species -- and must have a Greek or Latin origin.

The genus for these five worms is Ophryotrocha, and scientists will ask visitors to the museum's event, "Science Uncovered," to examine the specimens and come up with a name for each species.   Continued...

<p>A species of Antarctic, sea-dwelling worm is seen in this undated handout photo from the Natural History Museum. REUTERS/Natural History Museum/Handout</p>