New species of ancient tongue worm discovered

An international team of scientists led by Leicester researchers has discovered a new species of fossil - a 'tongue worm' - in England and have identified it as an ancient parasitic intruder.

The fossil species, which was found in 425-million year old rocks in Herefordshire, in the Welsh borderland, is described as ‘exceptionally well preserved.’  The specimens range from about 1 to 4 millimeters long.

The new fossil, which was originally entirely soft-bodied, is the first fossil tongue worm species to be found associated with its host, which in this case is a species of ostracod - a group of micro-arthropods (crabs, spiders and insects are also arthropods) with two shells that are joined at a hinge.

The creature has a worm-like body and a head and two pairs of limbs and is a parasite whose representatives today live internally in the respiratory system of a host, which it enters when it is eaten.

Professor David Siveter of the Department of Geology made the discovery working alongside researchers from the Universities of Oxford, Imperial College London and Yale, USA. 

Their research is published in the journal Current Biology and was supported by the Natural Environmental Research Council, together with the Leverhulme Trust, the John Fell Oxford University Press (OUP) Research Fund and Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History.

The fossils have been reconstructed as virtual fossils by 3D computer modelling.