The mud flats, waters and shores of the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers are home to more than 100 species of benthic or “bottom-dwelling” worms. Here are five of those fascinating worms. Match them with their descriptions. Answers are below.
Common Clam Worm
Milky Ribbon Worm
1. The most abundant bristle worm in the Bay looks like a squishy centipede. The 5– to 6-inch worm has a bristled appendage on each side of the many segments that make up its reddish bronze body, and it is able to regenerate any lost or injured part. Unlike some worms, its head is easily identifiable with its tentacles, four eyes and two palps (protuberances used for touching and tasting). It uses two hooks at the end of a long tubular sucking proboscis to snatch soft food — worms, dead organisms and algae — and pull it into its mouth. This worm can be found roaming on the bottom or in its tunnel. When tunneling, it discharges mucous, which hardens into a flexible tube that the creature can quickly enter or leave.
2. Observers of this worm moving through water have likened it to a flying carpet. Out of the water, usually hiding under a shell or rock, it looks like a small (1 inch or less) blob of pale jelly with tiny tentacles on top and eye specks in front. Juveniles eat algae, and nutrient-fed blooms have helped a greater number of them reach adulthood. The preferred food of the carnivorous adults is young oysters. They ooze into the shell and eat the bivalve from the inside out.
3. This flat, white to yellowish pink worm can be 3–4 feet long. When lifted out of the water, it will twist and turn until it is a pile of knots. It lives in the Lower Bay and in high- salinity areas of tributaries, where it devours bivalves and crustaceans. In late spring or summer, its breeding season, the worm turns dark red. It reproduces through mating or by breaking into pieces that grow into new worms.
4. There’s no mistaking this worm, which has three distinct body sections: a brown body, bright orange collar and pale pink proboscis. It sucks in oxygenated water through it mouth, which then flows out of gills located on its trunk, much like a fish, leading some to think it is a link between invertebrates and vertebrates. It eats by swallowing sand or mud that contains organic matter and microorganisms. At low tide, it sticks its rear end out of its tunnel, where it deposits coils of processed sediments, called casts.
5. This 6-inch worm, which looks like a reddish segmented twig, lives head-down in a vertical, mud-encrusted tube that sticks slightly above the surface of a mud flat. This worm cannot turn around in its tube and is nourished by organisms found in the sediment it takes in. It is frequently found in colonies, which attracts other marine life. The worm’s tail has a fleshy growth that can close off the tube, but it is not always successful. An amphipod often found in the tube is harmless, but one type of snail eats this worm.