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.

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

Just Posted

Dawson Road Maintenance crews have been working on road base failures on Highway 20. (Dawson Road Maintenance Facebook photo)
ROAD REPORT: Dawson Road Maintenance provides update on Cariboo Chilcotin road conditions

Road bases still soft, saturated at multiple locations in Cariboo Chilcotin due to spring freshet

The Central Coast snowpack is now sitting at 146 percent (Felicia Harris photo)
Central Coast snowpack now 46 per cent above normal

The risk of spring flooding is elevated due to the above normal snowpack across the entire province

Residents line up socially distanced at the Seedy Saturday event, held at the Lobelco Hall parking lot from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 3 with strict COVID-19 restrictions and precautions in place. (Nicole Kaechele photo)
Seedlings, plants and seeds offered at Seedy Saturday

“It was a fairly good turnout,” noted Elizabeth Howard

The Bella Coola Valley Arts Council (BCVAC) has recently received two awards totaling $40,000 from the province-wide British Columbia Arts Council, part of the StrongerBC: BC’s Economic Recovery Plan. The grants are to be used to stimulate local arts communities and to help them cope with impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo submitted)
Bella Coola Valley Arts Council receives $40,000 for local projects

The grants will be used to stimulte local arts communities and help them cope with the pandemic

Nuxalk Sputc Crew technician Scmlh (Jason Moody) walks in Bella Coola River towards sputc holding tank with cinematographer Louvens Remy (photo submitted)
Documentary to highlight importance of sputc for Nuxalk Nation

Sputc: We Shall Eat When the River is Full is a cinematic tale of wealth, loss and recovery

A large crowd protested against COVID-19 measures at Sunset Beach in Vancouver on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. (Snapchat)
VIDEO: Large, police-patrolled crowds gather at Vancouver beach for COVID protests

Vancouver police said they patrolled the area and monitored all gatherings

A teacher-librarian in Nanaimo was fired in 2019 for checking out an age-inappropriate graphic novel to a student. The discipline agreement was published Wednesday, April 21. (News Bulletin file photo)
B.C. teacher-librarian fired for checking out too-graphic graphic novel to student

Teacher had been previously disciplined and suspended on two occasions

Former University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams is photographed in the stands during the Greater Victoria Invitational at CARSA Performance Gym at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, November 29, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Former B.C. university rowing coach ‘deeply sorry’ after complaints

Barney Williams says he’s been committed to ensuring no other member of the roster had a similar experience

Aria Pendak Jefferson cuddles ChiChi, the family cat that ran away two years ago in Ucluelet. The feline was missing until Courtney Johnson and Barry Edge discovered her in the parking lot of the Canadian Princess earlier this month. Aria and her parents were reunited with ChiChi in a parking lot in Port Alberni. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
B.C. girl’s wish granted as her cat came back, two years later

Courtenay family reunited with cat that went missing in Ucluelet in 2019

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

FILE – The Instagram app is shown on an iPhone in Toronto on Monday, March 19, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
Judge acquits B.C. teen boy ‘set up’ on sex assault charge based on Instagram messages

The girl and her friends did not have ‘good intentions’ towards the accused, judge says

Kai Palkeinen recently helped a car stuck on the riverbed near the Big Eddy Bridge. While the car could not be saved, some of the driver’s belongings were. It’s common for vehicles to get stuck in the area due to significantly changing river levels from Revelstoke Dam. (Photo by Kai Palkeinen)
“I just sank a car’: Revelstoke resident wants Columbia River better protected

Although it’s not permitted, the riverbed near the city is popular for off roading

Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei, walks down the street with an acquaintance after leaving B.C. Supreme Court during a lunch break at her extradition hearing, in Vancouver, B.C., Thursday, April 1, 2021. A judge is scheduled to release her decision today on a request to delay the final leg of hearings in Meng Wanzhou’s extradition case. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rich Lam
B.C. judge grants Meng Wanzhou’s request to delay extradition hearings

Lawyers for Canada’s attorney general had argued there is no justification to delay proceedings in the case

Most Read