Skip to content

SFU researchers discover giant sand worms existed near Taiwan

They're not quite the ones from Dune, but still big enough to cause nightmares

SFU researchers have concluded ancient burrows more than 20 million years old were created by giant sandworms as they waited to ambush prey from beneath the seafloor.

Their findings were published last week in Scientific Reports, and rely on 'trace fossils' of the burrows found in a rocky part of Taiwan.

"I was fascinated by this monster burrow at first glance,” says the study's lead author Yu-Yen Pan in a press release from SFU. “Compared to other trace fossils, which are usually only a few tens of centimetres long, this one was huge; two-metres long and two-to-three centimetres in diameter."

The two-meter long worms are believed to be similar to Bobbit worms, a modern-day species which hunt by burying themselves in the seafloor and use their antennae to sense prey as it swims by.

Pan is a SFU earth sciences PhD student; she and her professor Shahin Dashtgard both worked on research into these burrows along with an international team. Pan started on the project while she was a Masters student working under a professor from the National Taiwan University.

"Shahin encouraged us to reach out to marine biologists, marine photographers and aquarium keepers to compare the burrows to biological analogs, which enabled us to reach the conclusion that this trace fossil was produced by giant, ambush-predatory worms," says Pan.

Because of worms soft body tissues, fossils are rare to find. The burrows of these newly discovered worms may be the first-ever trace fossil from a below-ground ambush predator.