PHOTOS: Light Shed on Glowing, Gloppy Green Worms

PHOTOS: Light Shed on Glowing, Gloppy Green Worms
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April 15, 2009—It's not every day that the words "glowing" and "mucus" are mentioned in the same breath, but here's one such sentence: a seafloor-dwelling fireworm that's long fascinated sailors by oozing glowing green mucus into the sea has finally been put under the microscope.

The female marine fireworm, Odontosyllis phosphorea, releases bioluminescent secretions synchronized with the moon's phases to entice mates.

A day or two before each summertime quarter-moon phase, 30-40 minutes after sunset, the females expel glowing mucus and some eggs. Enticed by the light, the males also contribute gametes to the X-Files-esque reproductive cloud. The whole endeavor lasts for about 20-30 minutes, and is remarkable for its precise timing.

But the new study of the worms by scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography has revealed another luminous surprise: juvenile Phosphorea are now also believed to exude "flashes" of the signature goo, perhaps to startle predators.

--Chris Combs
—Photograph by Dimitri Deheyn, Scripps Institution of Oceanography
 
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