Marine Worms

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Marine Worms, Pacific Northwest

There are all kinds of marine worms, some are harmless, some are beautiful and some can sting with powerful toxins.
Calcareous Tube Marine Worms, Photo By Bud Logan

Calcareous tube worms have bright colors varying from orange to red, some have with white bands. The most spectacular feature of these marine worms is their feathery crown. The feather tentacles reorganize into a funnel-shaped plug when the crown is pulled in. The animal lives in the white calcified tubes. These tubes can be up to 10 cm long and about 2 mm in diameter. Coils of white tubes are often seen fastened to rocks and substrates.

Look for them in tide pools and in the low intertidal zone to 100 m deep. These worms tend to stay away from the kelp,  kelp contains carbon monoxide, which is highly toxic to these worms.

The calcareous tube worm is a filter feeder that feeds on tiny microscopic organisms and small particles.
Calcareous Tube Marine Worms, Photo By Bud Logan
The organism can be found in various places from Alaska to Northern California including all of the Pacific Northwest. They are also seen in Britain, Scotland, and the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans. They can be found on floats, pilings, rocks and other hard surfaces, this worm would appear to be a smaller version of the Northern Feather Duster Worm but it is not. The calcareous tube worm is much smaller, the coiled protective tube is made of calcium carbonate and a red trap door is used to seal the tube. The tentacles colors range from red to orange and are used to feed on plankton.

The calcareous tube worm is a filter feeder that feeds on tiny microscopic organisms and small particles. When feeding, the animal extends the feather dusters tentacles from its tube. Links of cilia on these tentacles force food particles towards the mouth. These little tube worms are quite fascinating to watch as they move back and forth in the current, gleaning tidbits of food with their feather-like fans.

There are all kinds of marine worms, some are harmless, some are beautiful and some can sting with powerful toxins.

Other common names for clam worm are rag worm, mussel worm, pile worm, and sand worm.
Clam Worms, photo by Bud Logan
These worms live all along the BC coast, you can find them free swimming in bays harbors, just above the bottom or living in burrows they have dug in the muck. They wiggle around with the help of leg-like flaps, as they search for shrimp and other small animals to eat. Clam worms can deliver a nasty bite when handled so caution should be taken.

These clam worms are an important source of food for bottom-feeding fish and crustaceans. Birds will feed on them after spawning and die. They can sometimes be found in large numbers, dead, on the beach.

Other common names for the clam worm are ragworm, mussel worm, pile worm, and sandworm. clam worms vary in length from 2.5 cm to over 15 cm in length, they are commonly brown, bright red, grey or bright green. The head comes armed with sharp retractable jaws. They use these jaws to feed on shrimp and other marine worms.

These clam worm is an important source of food for bottom feeding fish and crustaceans. Birds will feed on them after spawning and die. They can sometimes be found in large numbers, dead, on the beach.
Clam Worms, photo by Bud Logan
When they are getting ready to mate, the rear part of the body becomes swollen with either sperm or eggs. The clam worm leaves the sea bottom at night and comes to the shoreline to release the sperm or eggs near the water surface. After fertilization, a spherical larva emerges from the egg.  They die soon after. One female clam worm can keep more than one million eggs in her body.

For some reason, halibut go nuts over clam worms and will go into a feeding frenzy when the clam worms are spawning. Tells you that if you want big halibut, you should head out to find some clam worms to use as bait. Lingcod is another lover of the clam worm and will devour them on sight.

Northern feather duster worms live in tough brownish to white tubes that can grow to about 25 cm in length. These tubes are made by mucous secretions mixed with sand grains.

They have retractable feathery appendages at the end of the tube that is used to capture food and act as gills for gas exchange. These green and maroon appendages quickly retract whenever their eye-spots sense a shadow, which they assume may be a predator. Northern feather duster worms generally form large communities of numerous individuals.

The northern feather duster worm lives in tough brownish to white tubes that can grow to about 25 cm in length. These tubes are made by mucous secretions mixed with sand grains.
Northern Feather Duster Worm, photo by Bud Logan

The feather-like appendages that give this worm its name are tentacles that are tightly weaved together, like feathers on a bird. The worm spreads its plumes and captures plankton with them. The plankton travels down grooves in the side of the worm that get smaller the closer it gets to the mouth, this allows only plankton small enough for them to eat reaches the mouthparts.

The feather duster worm is fertilized externally and depending on the species they will either brood eggs or spawn freely. (In the latter case, the eggs are deposited in gelatinous masses either on the parent’s tube or on the seafloor.) Once the eggs are released, they float freely for three to four weeks before settling down to start life as a tube-like worm.

When l was a young lad, my friends and I would head down to the old government wharf in Campbell River, the one with the net loft on the end and we would fish for cod and sea perch. Now the best bait for these fish was feather duster worms. You could find them by the thousands, growing just underneath the wharf fingers. You had to lay down on the dock and slowly reach towards the worms. When you were in striking range, you would lunge your hand forward and before the worms could retreat into their tubes, you would grab one and pull him out. They would be around 25 cm long and you could cut them up into small bait size chunks. The cod would go nuts for these worms.

Phylum Platyhelminthes are the flatworms. These are among the simplest of animals, consisting of essentially a flattened tube of muscle and a simple digestive system with a single opening that serves as both mouth and anus. It has no true body cavity, nor does it have the distinct body segments that characterize more complex worms. The vast majority of species in this phylum are parasites. Flatworms are also the most beautiful worms in the marine environment.

The ribbon marine worms are slightly more complex. While they also have a flattened shape, they have a one-way digestive system with separate mouth and anus and a simple blood vascular system. Ribbon Worms are carnivores that prowl the bottom for prey.

The annelids are the segmented worms, in other words, made up of segments that are formed by subdivisions that partially transect the body cavity. Also included are the feather duster worms.

The ribbon marine worms are slightly more complex. While they also have a flattened shape, they have a one-way digestive system with separate mouth and anus and a simple blood vascular system.
Ribbon Worm, Photo By Bud Logan

The Chaetognatha is a relatively unknown group of worms. Chaetognatha are known as arrow worms, they are tiny marine predators that locate their prey by detecting vibrations produced by zooplankton, they use sharp hooks and teeth at the front of the body to grab their victims and immobilize them with neurotoxins.

The horseshoe worms are an exclusively marine group of lophophorate animals, the Phoronida is one of the smallest and least familiar of the marine worms, there are about twelve species of these worms.

These are the most common worms on our coast, they are all quite fascinating to observe if you take the time to locate them.

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