Scientists have discovered a worm that feasts on its mother’s skin – a practice they have never before seen in animals.
Mark Wilkinson, a zoologist at the Natural History Museum in London and his team uncovered the bizarre form of parental care in Kenya, reported the online edition of the National Geographic channel.
The researchers observed the young of a caecilian, a type of limbless amphibian, feasting on their mother. They say the teeth of its young appear to be specially designed for eating its mother’s flesh.
The doting limbless mother transforms its skin into a nourishing, fat-rich meal for its newborns to eat, they say.
"There’s nothing (in the animal kingdom) that peels off the skin and eats big chunks of it like these things are doing," Wilkinson said.
The team says the offspring of Boulengerula taitanus are entirely dependent on their parent’s skin, which transforms into a kind of baby food that the study team likens to mother’s milk in mammals.
The female’s skin doubles in thickness during this period, the researchers found. "You’ve got several layers of skin, and the outer layer is what they eat," Wilkinson said. "When that’s peeled off, the layer below matures into the next meal."
The offspring were found to have special infant teeth, which they lose in adulthood, for gripping and stripping their mother’s flesh.
"Some teeth are spoon-shaped, so they look good for scraping, while those with spiked points look good for perhaps piercing the outer skin layer," Wilkinson said. Other teeth, he says, resemble grappling hooks.