Lovely marine worms

You don’t like worms? That’s a narrow-minded attitude—especially in light of these beautiful marine worms, photographed by Alexander Semenov, posted on Colossal, and called to my attention by several readers (how do you people find these things?).

I’ve chosen a few for your delectation, but go look at them all. I have no idea what the species are (they’re all polychaetes, a class of segmented worms [“annelids”]) but perhaps some readers know. Some of these have fantastic morphological complexity.

The site’s description follows, and be sure to look at Semenov’s photos of jellyfish and starfish.

Our favorite photographer of everything creepy and crawly under the sea, Alexander Semenov, recently released a number of incredible new photographs of worms, several of which may be completely unknown to science. Half of the photos were taken at the Lizard Island Research Station near the Great Barrier Reef in Australia during a 2-week conference on marine worms called polychaetes. Semenov photographed 222 different worm species which are now in the process of being studied and documented by scientists.

The other half of the photos were taken during Semenov’s normal course of work at theWhite Sea Biological Station in northern Russia where he’s head of the scientific divers team. We’ve previously featured the intrepid photographer’s work with jellyfish (part 2part 3), and starfish.







  1. Posted March 11, 2014 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    Gorgeous animals!

    The third one looks like it is either eating or being eaten, or being created, by the Flying Spaghetti Monster

  2. Diana MacPherson
    Posted March 11, 2014 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    So pretty!

  3. Diana MacPherson
    Posted March 11, 2014 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    I found Alexander Semenov’s flickr page if anyone would like to see more of his work!

    If I took these pictures, I’d have them printed on glossy aluminum!

  4. gbjames
    Posted March 11, 2014 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    I do like worms! I do like worms!

  5. Jacques Hausser
    Posted March 11, 2014 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    (Sorry for my english). Beautiful pictures! They are plenty of families of polychete worms, with very different shapes and specialisations. Four of them are illustrated here.

    The first and the third are Terebellidae, characterized by a number of anterior tentacles (ciliated and U shaped in cross section) which explore the neighbouring almost autonomously and bring back food particle to the mouth. The little “bushes” just behind the tntacles are gills. They live in tunnels in the mud or in tubes they built out from mucus and sand grains. It’s awesome to look at them alive. See for example

    The second is probably a Spionidae, they have typically two long tentacles spiraling like sheep horns, and lanceolate gills on each segments.

    The third is probably a Serpulidae. They live in calcareous tubes and show a crown of tentacles, one of them transformed into a cork to close the tube when the worm withdraws into security.

    And the most fantastic is the last one, a Chaetopteridae. The two appendices a bit horseshoe-like are used to hold a net of mucus, and the foliate segments behind work like a propeller, or more exactly like a Archimedes’ srew. The worm lives in a U shaped tunnel, and the “propeller” generates a water flow troughout (from tront to tail). The comestible particles are trapped in the mucus net. When it is full, the worm eats borh the net and its content, and secrete and new net.
    It’s an awesome example of how evolution frequently works, by metamerisation of identic segments – that is the basic structure of worms – followed by specialisation of some of them, here for trapping food and circulating water.

    • Posted March 11, 2014 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

      Thank you. These are very interesting details. I was supposing that the ones with long tentacles concentrated at one end would live in tubes, maybe extending their tentacles out to gather food particles.

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 12, 2014 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

      Great info, Jacques, thanks!

  6. Spirula
    Posted March 11, 2014 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    Colossal is a fantastic website. Awe inspiring in fact.

  7. Jonathan Wallace
    Posted March 11, 2014 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    For ‘simple’ animals they have almost baroque forms. I fondly remember Chaetopterus from undergrad invertebrate zoology classes, with its mucous bag ‘fishing net’.

  8. jaxkayaker
    Posted March 11, 2014 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    I believe it’s the case that although there are still “polychaetes”, the Phylum Annelida has been reconstructed, so that the classes Oligochaeta, Polychaeta and Hirudinea have been dropped in favor of groupings more reflective of evolutionary relatedness: the clades Errantia and Sedentaria.

    • Dave
      Posted March 12, 2014 at 2:25 am | Permalink

      I teach classes in Marine Zoology, including sessions on worms, so I think I’m pretty up to date with this stuff. “Errantia” and “Sedentaria” are handy functional categories, but haven’t been regarded as valid taxonomic groups for decades. As with so many other groups, the formal classification of the various groups of “worms” is now dictated by the findings of molecular biology. What this shows pretty clearly is that Oligochaeta (earthworms) and Hirudinea (leeches) are actually nested within Polychaeta, i.e. they’re not separate classes at all. The same is true, incidentally, of the former phyla Sipuncula, Echiura and Pogonophora. As far as the molecules are concerned, they’re all just weird polychaetes.

      For full details, see Struck, T.H. et al. (2007) BMC Evolutionary Biology 7: 57.

      • Jacques Hausser
        Posted March 12, 2014 at 4:29 am | Permalink

        Yes, but Struck et al 2011 (Nature 471, 95-98) and Struck 2013 (PLOS ONE 8 e62892)
        nevertheless keep Errantia and Sedentaria as valid groups, the latter including earthworms and leeches (Clitellata)as well as Echiurids… Sipuncula and Chaetopterus are apart.
        If one admits that evolution strongly modified the clades leaving the sea(Clitellata), bluring their relationships, the 19th century zoologists had rather good insights!

        • Dave
          Posted March 12, 2014 at 6:17 am | Permalink

          Damn molecular biologists – can’t they ever make their minds up??
          Thanks for the updates!

  9. Kelton Barnsley
    Posted March 11, 2014 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

    “The angels all pallid and wan
    uprising, unveiling, affirm
    That the play is the tragedy, Man,
    and its hero the Conqueror Worm.”
    -From Ligea, by Edgar Allen Poe

    I find these creatures beautiful and terrifying at once. They are far stranger than the most imaginative creations of science fiction.

  10. Posted March 11, 2014 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

    If I remember right, we are all worms, in the same sense that we’re also fish as well as monkeys.


    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted March 11, 2014 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

      ….and Pikaia gracilens should be one of our favourites.

    • squidmaster
      Posted March 11, 2014 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

      Well, we aren’t *these* kinds of worms. These are all protostomes and we, OTOH, are deuterostomes. The difference is how we embryologically develop our gut. But these lovely creatures are nonetheless our cousins, be it ever so many times removed. The protostome/deuterostome ancestor (PDA; something funny about that abbreviation) was undoubtedly ‘wormlike’, in the sense that it didn’t have a very complicated body plan (some think), but it was only really a ‘worm’ if one stretches the term somewhat.

      • Diane G.
        Posted March 12, 2014 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

        Worms are stretchy.

  11. Achrachno
    Posted March 11, 2014 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

    Not like worms? What’s not to like?

  12. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted March 12, 2014 at 2:06 am | Permalink

    When G*d made these, he must have been on the wildest celestial LSD trip of his entire existence. 😉

  13. Posted March 12, 2014 at 2:42 am | Permalink

    Wonderful creatures, thanks for posting them – the Flickr page is amazing.

  14. AdamK
    Posted March 12, 2014 at 4:48 am | Permalink

    OK. But I still don’t like worms.

  15. Shwell Thanksh
    Posted March 12, 2014 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

    That’s a whole lot of chaetes.

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