Just a Cool Worm for Independence Day

A Sternapsid worm found in mangrove sediments from He'eia fishpond

In celebration of the 4th of July, I’m sharing a picture of a worm whose body is reminiscent of a firecracker.

The process of sorting cores goes rather slowly. After coring sediments and sieving out macrofauna (anything bigger than 0.5 mm), everything gets preserved in formalin with seawater, waiting to be sorted and identified. Usually this is tedious work, but it has its rewarding moments. I’ve found a wealth of these cool “party-favor” worms in sediments at one of my mangrove control sites. After identifying it (with much help from worm expert Atsuko Fukunaga, a graduate of the prestigious Worm Lab at UH), I tried to match it with the description from our Hawaiian worm key, Reef and Shore Fauna of Hawaii (Devaney & Eldgredge), and came across a pretty standard excerpt:

“Sternapsids are small, peanut-shaped worms with an anterior end capable of being invaginated and bearing the mouth, and a broader posterior region with a pair of anal plates…The worms bury themselves head down in the sediments, with the anal plates and brachiae uppermost.”

“Bundles of 15 to 17 capillary setae, some pilose and others smooth, surround the outer edges of the [anal] plates. Branchial filaments are spirally coiled and numerous.”

The branchial filaments are easy to spot– they’re the things around the mouth that make it look like a party favor. Anal plates… well, those are harder to find. They should be on the same end. While the particular family name of this worm may not be necessarily important to my project, it can tell us things like whether the worm is a deposit or a suspension feeder: these are different functional groups and process different types of organic matter. If there are more deposit feeders, mangrove litter is more likely to be broken down. But deposit feeders need oxygen too, so they aren’t always present where we need them. The search for worms in core samples continues, with 20 remaining from the last sampling period…


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  • Mahalo Nui Loa

    I recently graduated from the Donahue Lab at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa and am currently a graduate student at the University of Washington. This research is funded by a Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation, as well a scholarship from the Seattle chapter of the Achievement Rewards for College Scientists (ARCS) Foundation.
  • “Where do ecological ideas come from? …Most do not spring deductively from the minds of ecologists, like Athena from the head of Zeus. Instead, they emerge when ecologists absorb the essential spirit of individual places– their genius loci.”

    ~Mary V. Price & Ian Billick, "The Ecology of Place"
  • “Aloha is the intelligence with which we meet life.”

    ~Olana A'i, Kumu Hula

  • “I no longer say ‘Hawaiian ways of knowing’ anymore. Because people relegate that to the margins. ‘Ways of knowing,’ as if it’s a quaint, anthropologic way of describing something outside us. No, it’s ‘epistemology,’ the philosophy of knowledge. Land educates. ‘Ike ‘aina. The land of your birth educates you. This land here educates you.”

    ~Manu Meyer

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