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posted by janrinok on Tuesday February 27, @06:04AM   Printer-friendly

With skull parts that click together like puzzle pieces and a large central tooth, the real-life sandworm is stranger than fiction:

Amphisbaenians are strange creatures. Like worms with vertebrae, scales, a large central tooth and sometimes small forearms, these reptiles live underground, burrowing tunnels and preying on just about anything they encounter, not unlike a miniature version of the monstrous sandworms from "Dune."

Even though they're found around much of the world, little is known about how amphisbaenians behave in the wild because they cannot be observed while in their natural habitat under sand and soil. But thanks to two papers published in the March issue of The Anatomical Record, new light is being shed on these animals and their specialized anatomy.

[...] "You could fit three skulls of the Zygaspis quadrifrons on the nail of my pinky. We can now look at these really small vertebrate organisms in a measure of detail that we never had before," Bell said.

[...] "They wriggle around and try to escape and move in ways that worms just aren't able to. These are much more like little snakes in the way that they move and interact. It's just surprising for something that's so tiny. You just don't expect that behavior," Lewis said.

Some of the most striking imagery to come from these CT scans highlights sutures within the skull: deep, thin waves that "grab" on to each other, Lewis described. The images also render in exquisite details the amphisbaenians' strange singular central tooth, which interlocks with two bottom teeth.

"Combined with the powerful jaw muscles in amphisbaenians, it gives them a ferocious bite for an animal of their size. They can bite and tear out pieces of their prey," Bell said.

Journal References:
    Antonio Meza, Christopher J. Bell, Juan D. Daza, et al., Variation in the cranial osteology of the amphisbaenian genus Zygaspis based on high-resolution x-ray computed tomography, The Anatomical Record, First Published: 17 October 2023 https://doi.org/10.1002/ar.25321
    Christopher J. Bell, Cristhian Cadena, Antonio Meza, et al., Cranial anatomy of the "round-headed" Amphisbaenian Zygaspis quadrifrons (Squamata, Amphisbaenia) based on high-resolution x-ray computed tomography, The Anatomical Record, First Published: 17 October 2023 https://doi.org/10.1002/ar.25321


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