Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Glow Worms


I first posted about these little fireflies of the sea back in October of 2009 in my post "On the Water".
That was the first time I'd seen them here in Newport.
Since then I've seen them roughly once a year, although not reliably in the same month each year - the first time I witnessed their display was in October.
It's just past the middle of June and I began seeing them again four nights ago. 
It's possible that they've also appeared at places and times where I wasn't there to notice them.
Like the Northern Lights, this is a phenomenon that's amazing...and yet very hard to catch photos or video of.
Last night I was finally able to capture very shaky video clips of the glow worms as they lit up at the surface.

Here's the first clip:

As you can see, these creatures emit a glow that's just like a glow-stick or those tube-necklaces they sell at amusement parks. 
It's a bright green hue and they move around quite a lot.
Some make a straight shot across the water (and they really do move fast),
but most can be seen squiggling around one patch of water.

I did some research and I believe these little glow worms are polychaete annelid Odontosyllis.  The characteristics of this species, as observed in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands match those of the glowing worms I'm seeing here in Newport.

My first encounter with this species was in 2009.  
I'd been on that same waterway for sixteen years and never saw them before. 
In addition, each year I see them, it seems as though there are more of them glowing and interacting.   It would not surprise me to learn that they are new to the area, having been artificially introduced.  Yes, I could definitely be wrong,
but I know that they weren't seen from '93 to '08, and then there they were.  Heck, it could be that some of you rowing in other waterways have been seeing these critters for decades, and the ones I've just started observing are transplants from your waterway.

I've mentioned these things to other people who are, and have been locals for some time; the response has always been the same - they think I'm talking about bioluminescent plankton associated with red tide. 
That phenomenon is a real wonder, one which I've marveled at each time I've seen it, but it manifests itself in a different way.

These are glowing worms.

Here's a better view:

In reading about polychaete annelid Odontosyllis, I've learned that the glowing relates to reproduction.  In this species, both sexes glow. 
The female tends to glow brighter, she tends to move around a lot in the same spot, creating a cloud. 
The cloud consists, at least in part, of eggs - waiting to be fertilized by the males.  The small cloud created by the female seems to enhance the glow of the worm herself.  The males (also glowing) are attracted to the eggs, and, well, that's how little glow worms are made.  These worms live mostly in sediment at the bottom, and usually don't rise to the surface except to mate.

Now there's what you can see as you're out there rowing in the dark,
and then there's what you get when you're hunched over the side,
holding your precious cellphone just inches above the water. 
The glow worms aren't very cooperative, and the autofocus in my cellphone seems to follow suit, but last night I was able to get a few decent captures of those little glowing buggers. 

If I could truly capture the experience to share with you, it would begin with a surprising first spotting. 
Next the gondolier and his passengers realize there are more of them. 
As the boat continues to glide along, we see dozens, then hundreds of them. 
At certain points it's as if you're rowing on a sky of green stars,
which twinkle and move - with the occasional shooting star catching your eye.

If any of you have seen these glowing worms, or something like them,
I'd love to hear about it.

11 comments:

HB Surf said...

Hi. We live on Huntington Harbor and have seen these little creatures a few time. Last night (4-8-14) was unusual....while motoring back to the house in our Duffy, these little dudes were all over the place on both sides of the boat. I don't recall seeing them while on the water in the past. We usually notice them near the docks. We have been trying to figure what they are and I think you answered it!

Gondola Greg said...

Glad my post was helpful.
I noticed one last week for the first time this year.
I expecting to see more in the weeks to come.

Rick Reno Jr. said...

A 1st time sighting last Sun. Nite -- a good dozen spread between Lido Island off the Genoa crane dock & Lido peninsula. Heard they give you a painful sting if handled. Deadly for dogs if ingested possibly..
,,, Capt. Nero

Denny F. said...

Thanks so much for your post. We've seen dozens, maybe hundreds of them in Christiana Bay in Huntington Harbour for the past 4 nights. They seem to get active about 9:00pm and then are gone pretty much in about an hour. Caught one in a plastic cup. Thread-like with solid black head and appear segmented but could be internal bioluminescent organs; overall about 3/4 - 1" long. Maybe slightly hairy but very thin. Seem to leave clouds of luminescent material spiraling behind them like a little trail. Most of the display is in the upper foot of the water and mostly very near or at the surface.

Fun!

Denny F. said...

Thanks so much for your post. We've seen dozens, maybe hundreds of them in Christiana Bay in Huntington Harbour for the past 4 nights. They seem to get active about 9:00pm and then are gone pretty much in about an hour. Caught one in a plastic cup. Thread-like with solid black head and appear segmented but could be internal bioluminescent organs; overall about 3/4 - 1" long. Maybe slightly hairy but very thin. Seem to leave clouds of luminescent material spiraling behind them like a little trail. Most of the display is in the upper foot of the water and mostly very near or at the surface.

Fun!

Denny F. said...

(Sorry about double post before!)

The worms we are seeing are the polychaete, "odontosyllis phosphorea". Good understandable article published based on observations in Mission Bay, San Diego, in 1983 "Repetitive cycles of bioluminescence and spawning in the polychaete, Odontosyllis Phosphorea" in The Biological Bulletin. Copy at http://classes.uleth.ca/200601/biol3520a/rep.pdf

They seem to spawn every 2 weeks in warm season at neap tides. Interesting article with description matching what we are seeing exactly.

Thanks again for your blog.

C Giles said...

Thousands of them in Alamitos Bay last night just after dusk.

Diane Lee said...

Also just saw them tonight in christiana bay huntington beach! I got some video of them. Lived here for about four years and never seen them until tonight

David John Hastie said...

They come out in June in Huntington Harbor at about 8:00-8:30 and are over by 9:00. They are out now but have seen them later in June.

Unknown said...

I have lived on the water in Newport for close to 20 years and just saw these for the first time tonight!

Bob Steed said...

Saw them in Newport Harbor Oct 25 2017 while kayaking at about 7pm. They seem to be activated by disturbing the water. You stop paddling and they seem to go away. But they are there, just not lit up until the water they are in is disturbed but the kayak wake or paddle stroke. By the way air temps were on unseasonably warm the last 2 days (90+ deg in Newport). Not sure if that had something to do with their being out tonight. I caught one in my hand and it released a bit of the glow juice. Pretty neat.