They found that the worms begin life as microscopic larvae floating through the deep ocean. When the larvae encounter a dead animal, such as a whale or elephant seal, they settle onto its bones. The worms then sprout up, looking a bit like tiny trees. At one end are root-like structures that grow into the bone. The scientists suspect that bacteria in these roots break down proteins within the bone, which supply nutrients for the worms. At the other end are feathery appendages called "palps," which take in oxygen.
When these worms sexually mature, they all turn into females. But larvae that land on the female boneworm's palps develop into male worms, although they remain microscopic in size. The male worms fertilize the females' eggs, which are then released to start the cycle over.