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.
Photograph by Dimitri Deheyn, Scripps Institution of Oceanography