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

Have an opinion you’d like to share? Submit letters to the editor through our website, via email or the postal service. (Heather Colpitts/Black Press Media)
LETTER: Langley and other communities should be concerned about credit union’s direction

Member read the fine print and does not like the proposed changes

Langley MLAs Andrew Mercier and Megan Dykeman. (Black Press Media files)
Langley MLAs announce multiculturalism grants intended to help fight racism

Priority was given to projects addressing anti-Indigenous, anti-Asian and anti-Black racism

Jaden Lipinski has signed to the Langley-based Vancouver Giants, and is expected to start next season. (Lipinski Family/Special to Black Press Media)
Arizona forward joins Vancouver Giants ranks

A young scorer out of Scottsdale was signed to start playing in the 2021-22 season

Langley Township is planning to construct a multi-use arts and cultural centre in Fort Langley. (Langley Township graphic)
Wanna buy a piece of Langley history? Museum naming rights up for grabs

Township opens up sponsorship for new Salishan Place by the River history, arts and culture centre

Vancouver Giants goalie Trent Miner saw his lengthy shutout streak in the net come to an end in a 6-3 loss against Prince George on Saturday, April 10. (Allen Douglas/Special to the Langley Advance Times)
Giants winning streak snapped by Prince George Cougars in 6-3 loss

The game also marked the end of a franchise-record shutout streak by goalie Trent Miner

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

People walk past the Olympic rings in Whistler, B.C., Friday, May 15, 2020. Whistler which is a travel destination for tourists around the world is seeing the effects of travel bans due to COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Adults living, working in Whistler, B.C., eligible for COVID-19 vaccine on Monday

The move comes as the province deals with a rush of COVID-19 and variant cases in the community

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
UPDATE: RCMP investigating after child, 6, dies at motel in Duncan, B.C.

The BC Coroners Service is conducting its own investigation into the circumstances around the child’s death

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

RCMP display some of the fish seized from three suspects who pleaded guilty to violating the Fisheries Act in 2019, in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - RCMP
3 banned from fishing, holding licences after overfishing violations near Vancouver Island

Mounties seized the group’s 30-foot fishing vessel and all equipment on board at the time

B.C. Premier John Horgan responds to questions during a postelection news conference in Vancouver, on Sunday, October 25, 2020. British Columbia’s opposition Liberals and Greens acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented huge challenges for Horgan’s government, but they say Monday’s throne speech must outline a coherent plan for the province’s economic, health, social and environmental future. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s NDP to bring in throne speech in B.C., Opposition wants coherent plan

Farnworth said the budget will include details of government investment in communities and infrastructure

FILE - An arena worker removes the net from the ice after the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames NHL hockey game was postponed due to a positive COVID-19 test result, in Vancouver, British Columbia, in this Wednesday, March 31, 2021, file photo. As vaccinations ramp up past a pace of 3 million a day in the U.S, the NHL is in a tougher spot than the other three major North American professional sports leagues because seven of 31 teams are based on Canada. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
Vancouver Canucks scheduled to practice Sunday, resume games April 16 after COVID outbreak

Canucks outbreak delayed the team’s season by eight games

Most Read