Giant marine worms rising from burrows along Vancouver Island coast

In the Facebook group, Field Naturalists of Vancouver Island, a special sighting was recently shared of some swimming polychaetes in the waters of East Sooke. Louise Page, who teaches invertebrate biology and marine biology at the University of Victoria, identified the giant swimming worms to likely be Nereis brandti, also known as “the giant piling worm.” They typically live buried in the sand during the year, but when triggered by a lunar cue, will swim up in the water column to mate. (Photo courtesy of Louise Page)In the Facebook group, Field Naturalists of Vancouver Island, a special sighting was recently shared of some swimming polychaetes in the waters of East Sooke. Louise Page, who teaches invertebrate biology and marine biology at the University of Victoria, identified the giant swimming worms to likely be Nereis brandti, also known as “the giant piling worm.” They typically live buried in the sand during the year, but when triggered by a lunar cue, will swim up in the water column to mate. (Photo courtesy of Louise Page)
In the Facebook group, Field Naturalists of Vancouver Island, a special sighting was recently shared of some swimming polychaetes in the waters of East Sooke. Louise Page, who teaches invertebrate biology and marine biology at the University of Victoria, identified the giant swimming worms to likely be Nereis brandti, also known as “the giant piling worm.” They typically live buried in the sand during the year, but when triggered by a lunar cue, will swim up in the water column to mate. (Photo courtesy of Louise Page)In the Facebook group, Field Naturalists of Vancouver Island, a special sighting was recently shared of some swimming polychaetes in the waters of East Sooke. Louise Page, who teaches invertebrate biology and marine biology at the University of Victoria, identified the giant swimming worms to likely be Nereis brandti, also known as “the giant piling worm.” They typically live buried in the sand during the year, but when triggered by a lunar cue, will swim up in the water column to mate. (Photo courtesy of Louise Page)
In the Facebook group, Field Naturalists of Vancouver Island, a special sighting was recently shared of some swimming polychaetes in the waters of East Sooke. Louise Page, who teaches invertebrate biology and marine biology at the University of Victoria, identified the giant swimming worms to likely be Nereis brandti, also known as “the giant piling worm.” They typically live buried in the sand during the year, but when triggered by a lunar cue, will swim up in the water column to mate. (Photo courtesy of Louise Page)In the Facebook group, Field Naturalists of Vancouver Island, a special sighting was recently shared of some swimming polychaetes in the waters of East Sooke. Louise Page, who teaches invertebrate biology and marine biology at the University of Victoria, identified the giant swimming worms to likely be Nereis brandti, also known as “the giant piling worm.” They typically live buried in the sand during the year, but when triggered by a lunar cue, will swim up in the water column to mate. (Photo courtesy of Louise Page)
In the Facebook group, Field Naturalists of Vancouver Island, a special sighting was recently shared of some swimming polychaetes in the waters of East Sooke. Louise Page, who teaches invertebrate biology and marine biology at the University of Victoria, identified the giant swimming worms to likely be Nereis brandti, also known as “the giant piling worm.” They typically live buried in the sand during the year, but when triggered by a lunar cue, will swim up in the water column to mate. (Photo courtesy of Louise Page)In the Facebook group, Field Naturalists of Vancouver Island, a special sighting was recently shared of some swimming polychaetes in the waters of East Sooke. Louise Page, who teaches invertebrate biology and marine biology at the University of Victoria, identified the giant swimming worms to likely be Nereis brandti, also known as “the giant piling worm.” They typically live buried in the sand during the year, but when triggered by a lunar cue, will swim up in the water column to mate. (Photo courtesy of Louise Page)

At a certain time of year, an unusual, alien-like phenomenon moves in the shallow waters of Vancouver Island.

In the Facebook group, Field Naturalists of Vancouver Island, someone shared a special sighting of swimming polychaetes in the waters off East Sooke. Louise Page, who teaches invertebrate biology and marine biology at the University of Victoria, identified the giant swimming worms to likely be Nereis brandti, also known as the “giant piling worm” or “giant clam worm.”

“Nereis brandti is huge, growing up to a foot in length,” said Page. “They typically live buried in the sand during the year.”

READ ALSO: Wayward cows milk sudden freedom on B.C. lawns and doorsteps

Page noted the video posted in the Facebook group, which featured multiple worms, was “fascinating behavior,” as they tend to only come up once per year to mate.

“This behaviour, which is called swarming, is triggered by a lunar cue. They all swim up into the water column, males and females at the same time, same place, and have a big orgy up there,” said Page with a laugh. “They release eggs and sperm, and very rapidly, little larvae develop and start to feed on phytoplankton.”

Typically the worms mate during spring or summer, when there is lots of phytoplankton for the larvae to feed on. After metamorphosis, they will usually feed on kelp, but some species also feed on other animals.

These curious worms, which resemble giant centipedes, develop multiple pairs of appendages, which stem off body segments. Each segment contains a little kidney and gonads, and eventually when the larvae become mature enough, they lose the appendages and become animals that burrow in the sands.

From here, the cycle continues, and eventually they too will swim up to mate in the water column on a particular lunar cue. Some species live for one year, others live for multiple.

“Swimming up into the water column is dangerous behaviour. They are subject to a lot of predators,” said Page. “It is important that they all swim up at the same time. For some species, this is a fatal activity, once they rupture they die … others will go back and burrow.”

The worms are also attracted to light, which could be another reason they swam towards the camera flash in the video posted on social media.

READ ALSO: Killer whales come close to shore in Nanaimo wild-coast spectacle

She said giant clam worms belong to the family called Nereididae, and different species of these underwater worms can be found throughout the world’s oceans at all depths.

Some, fascinatingly enough, live near deep ocean hydro-thermal vents and don’t feed at all. They live on hot, toxic fluids seeping out of the Earth’s crust.

“When these worms were first discovered, it was amazing. They were huge, about one metre long. When we dissected them, they didn’t have a gut, just massive tissue inside,” said Page. “It was worked out that this massive tissue had bacteria in it. Those bacteria have an amazing metabolic pathway where they can oxidize the hydrogen sulphide.”

Essentially, the worms were feeding on bacteria rather than sunlight.

“It’s the same cycle land plants use to create carbohydrates. The worms utilize sulphide to create organic carbon,” said Page. “When these worms were first discovered, we thought perhaps they could be first kinds of animals on the planet, but that has been discredited. These worms have invaded the deep sea from shallow water habitats.”

Shallow water Nereididae play an important role in the food chain. Being primary consumers, they keep the system powered as food for larger fish and other secondary consumers.

For those interested in learning more about marine annelids, Page will offer a presentation on April 12. The free seminar highlights interesting photos of various marine worms. To register, visit pacname.org/regional-chapters/british-columbia.


Do you have a story tip? Email: vnc.editorial@blackpress.ca.

Follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like us on Facebook.

Metchosin

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

B.C's COVID-19 dashboard shows the peaks and valleys of cases prior to the record daily report of 132 on April 9, 2021. (Dashboard image)
Interior Health has record day of COVID-19 cases

132 cases reported Friday, April 9, more deaths in Vernon hospital outbreak

School District 83 trustees are leaning towards an option in the school district’s Long Range Facilities Plan that favours making Salmon Arm Secondary’s Sullivan campus and Jackson campus (pictured) both Grade 9-12 schools. (Google maps image)
Letter: Two high school option for Salmon Arm will create ‘have, have not’ situation

Writer concerned with E5 option, says transparent talk about implications needed

Left, Elena Bruns (2015 Rapattack Junior recruit/current Rapattack staff) and Leah Nash (2019 Rapattack Junior recruit/current Rapattack staff) in a helicopter on the Eagle Bluff Fire, August 2019. (Kamloops Fire Centre photo)
Salmon Arm students stick with wildfire fighting after junior Rapattack program

Junior Fire Crew program partners with Salmon Arm Secondary, develops students’ love for job

Work began April 6, 2021 on the Trans-Canada Highway downtown corridor project to improve safety and traffic flow, which will see the traffic light at Ross Street relocated to Fourth Street NE. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)
VIDEO: Traffic slow downs to go through May on Salmon Arm highway corridor

Ministry says night work not planned on Highway 1, single lanes to remain as traffic light changed

Genevieve Reynard dances as a video is recorded to be judged at a Kamloops-based dance festival. She earned first and second place honours in a variety of styles. (Shuswap Dance Center/Facebook)
Shuswap Dance Center dancers win big in Kamloops competition

Thirty-five young competitors place in top three in either solo or group number

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

Vernon Secondary School. (Google Maps)
Case of COVID-19 at North Okanagan high school

VSS exposure announced late Friday, April 9

The Royal’s 1951 visit to Revelstoke. (Photo by Revelstoke Museum and Archives #17)
PHOTOS: Prince Philip visited Revelstoke – twice

The prince died April 9 at the age of 99

Nolan's Pharmasave in downtown Vernon received 200 AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines Friday, April 9, 2021. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)
AstraZeneca vaccines arrive at Vernon pharmacies

Four pharmacies in the city received doses of the COVID-19 inoculant Friday

The RCMP were called to the Alchemy Studio on Thursday, April 8. (Contributed)
Revelstoke yoga class fined for defying COVID-19 orders

The RCMP were called to the Alchemy Studio on April 8

An East Hill resident had their leaf bags torched in front of their home overnight April 8. Less than two weeks prior their garbage can was lit on fire too. (Taryn Allen photo)
Garbage, leaf fires spark fear in North Okanagan

First an East Hill residents’ trash can, then bagged leaves were lit on fire

Okanagan-based All Are Family Outreach Society, which provides support to those struggling from Armstrong to Kelowna, is in need of a new headquarters after leaving a Winfield church in June 2020. (All Are Family Outreach photo)
Okanagan outreach society in ‘desperate’ need after storage unit break-in

All Are Family Outreach had $4,000 in tools stolen from its donation shipping container

A large illuminated heart was installed on the roof of the Vernon Jubilee Hospital May 1, 2020. (VJH Foundation photo)
Three deaths linked to COVID-19 outbreak in Vernon hospital

Interior Health reports two additional deaths at VJH

Most Read