Whale skeleton orange polychaete
Leslie H. Harris
lhharris at rcf-fs.usc.edu
Wed Mar 15 19:32:17 EST 2000
Geoff & everyone -
The worm in question is a chrysopetalid, close to Vigtorniella Kisseleva
1996. I was lucky enough to run into Craig Smith when we were both at
MBARI (Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute) last year. He was
carrying around a vial of the worms, hoping to find someone who could
identify them, and a copy of the video. The video footage is incredible.
The worms attach themselves by a few anterior parapodia to the bones. (I
assumed the attached parapodia are the anteriormost but the quality of the
video wasn't good enough for me to be certain.) Most of the body is free,
hanging straight down, & swaying with the current. They are very tightly
packed together and as a whole really do look just like a shag carpet.
These worms are fairly large for a chrysopetalid, up to 50 x 5 mm, with
flacid, fragile bodies.
The original specimens of Vigtorniella zaikai (Kisseleva) were cultured in
the lab from pelagic larvae caught in the Black Sea. The larvae can spend
an extended time in the plankton due to yolk reserves & limited uptake of
detritus; they can exist at hydrogen sulfide concentrations of 0.25 ml/liter &
an oxygen minimum of 0.06 ml/liter. Settled nektochaetes & adults have
been found at 117-151 m in the oxic-anoxic interface of the Black Sea.
Settling density is very high, up to 6500-9150 ind/m2 at some depths.
Sounds like a perfect organism to take advantage of a whale-fall, as the
bones & surrounding sediment are covered with mats of sulfide bacteria.
More information on V. zakai can be found at:
Thomas Dahlgren has been very generous in sharing his notes on
Vigtorniella & chrysopetalids in general. I am sending specimens to
Thomas of both this whale-worm, and a second form also found on a whale-
>Does anyone know what species this quote refers to?
>It would be interesting to see a photo of these worms in situ.
>"Smith [Craig R. Smith, U. Hawai'i] and his colleagues are intrigued by the
>creatures that are attracted to whale corpses. One organism, a big, orange
>polychaete worm that looks like a furry centipede, can be found in such
>numbers around whale skeletons that one researcher says it looks like the
>bones are covered with a orange shag carpet."
Leslie H. Harris
LACM-Allan Hancock Foundation Polychaete Collection tel: 213) 763-3234
Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History fax: 213) 746-2999
900 Exposition Boulevard email: lhharris at bcf.usc.edu
Los Angeles, California 90007 U.S.A.
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