Wednesday, June 19, 2013
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.