A deep-sea spaghetti worm was recently showcased by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), who earlier made a video about the unusual organism in celebration of International Polychaete Day. The footage was from an expedition to Mexico’s Gulf of California in 2012, when researchers spotted what looked like marine pom-poms on the sea floor.
Unsure as to what ocean oddity they were looking at, MBARI enlisted the help of taxonomic expert Greg Rouse from Scripps Institution of Oceanography to identify the unique polychaete worms. Rouse helped the team establish that they were dealing with an undescribed species of spaghetti worm in the genus Biremis.
The tasseled worm is still awaiting formal identification in a journal paper, but we do know it sits within the Biremis genus, a group of animals that share certain traits. These include no eyes, no gills, and a lack of bristles along its body segments.
Biremis is most notably known for its strange inflated tentacles, giving this pinkish worm its pom-pom aesthetic. Typically, animals of this genus live in tubes or burrows on the seabed, but this particular Biremis acts a little differently.
Rather than hiding away in the seabed, this particular spaghetti worm has been found either sitting on the sandy surface or swimming just above it. Swimming might not seem like the easiest thing for animals likened to spaghetti, but in doing so, the worm can increase its feeding opportunities by moving on to more lucrative foraging sites.
Those many spaghetti tendrils come in handy here, sifting through the sediment in search of nutritious flecks of marine snow, the name given to the continuous shower of organic detritus drifting down the water column.
Another animal known to be fond of this delicious ocean dandruff is a recently-described anemone that moves along the seabed with the aid of hermit crabs that wear it like a fashionable hat.
This spaghetti worm video comes from a vast archive of around 28,000 hours of footage which MBARI is using to gain a better understanding of ocean wildlife and ecosystems in an effort to safeguard our marine habitats for the future.
“MBARI and our collaborators have described more than 240 new species, from a new species of crown jelly and a worm that drops bioluminescent 'bombs' to unique carnivorous sponges and an assortment of bone-eating worms,” a spokesperson from MBARI told IFLScience.
“By documenting new species in the deep sea, MBARI is helping establish a baseline for life in the largest environment on Earth. We can't protect what we don't understand, so understanding what lives in the deep sea is a critical first step toward protecting deep-sea animals and habitats from threats like overfishing, plastic pollution, and climate change.”