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

Elvira D’Angelo, 92, waits to receive her COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 7, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
110 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Provincial health officers announced 1,005 new cases throughout B.C.

Black Crow Cannabis is just one of Vernon's many pot shops now open in town. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Kelowna has highest cannabis fees in Okanagan

Vernon’s 14 stores pay second highest business licence fees

Serving alcohol has been altered in the Central Okanagan Public Schools policy regarding rental of school facilities for after-school hours events. (Contributed)
Alcohol option opened up at Central Okanagan school facilities rented for events

Central Okanagan Board of Education retains final approval for after-hours event approvals

Voting day for the upcoming Central Okanagan Board of Education by-election is June 26. (Contributed)
Central Okanagan school board election set for June 26

Kelowna voters will go the polls to fill vacant Kelowna trustee seat

Two bikes that were stolen after a West Kelowna parking garage was looted on April 3. Photo: Crime Stoppers Central Okanagan
Parking garage looted in West Kelowna

A car was broken into and six storage lockers were ransacked

Flow Academy is located at 1511 Sutherland Avenue in Kelowna. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)
Black Press Media Weekly Roundup: Top headlines this week

Here’s a quick roundup of the stories that made headlines across the Okanagan, from April 11 to 16

Penticton bylaw officers tore down a “pretty significantly sized” homeless camp underneath the bridge near Riverside Drive Friday, April 16 morning. (Brennan Phillips - Western News)
Penticton bylaw tears down ‘significantly sized’ homeless camp under bridge

Many residents had made complaints about the camp before it was torn down

Vancouver Police Const. Deepak Sood is under review by the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. after making comments to a harm reduction advocate Sunday, April 11. (Screen grab)
VIDEO: Vancouver officer convicted of uttering threats under watchdog review again

Const. Deepak Sood was recorded Sunday saying ‘I’ll smack you’ and ‘go back to selling drugs’ to a harm reduction advocate

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate persists, 1,005 new cases Friday

Hospitalization up to 425, six more virus-related deaths

Premier John Horgan receives a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at the pharmacy in James Bay Thrifty’s Foods in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. Premier John Horgan gets AstraZeneca shot, encourages others

27% of residents in B.C. have now been vaccinated against COVID-19

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Ford F-350s have been targeted in the North Okanagan by auto thieves since February 2021, Vernon North Okanagan RCMP data shows. (Gene J. Puskar - The Canadian Press/AP file)
Auto thieves target older Ford F-350s in Vernon: RCMP

Vernon Mounties remind all motorists no vehicle is immune to auto crime

The Nautical Dog Cafe at Skaha marina is getting its patio ready in hopes Mother Nature will provide where provincial restrictions have taken away indoor dining. (Facebook)
‘A lot of instability’: B.C. restaurants in layoff limbo

As COVID-19 cases stay high, restaurants in British Columbia are closed to indoor dining

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Expectations high as Trudeau Liberals get ready to unveil first pandemic budget

The Liberals will look to thread an economic needle with Monday’s budget

Most Read