A “flamboyant” new species of marine worm has been discovered living in the Celebes Sea, between the Philippines and Indonesia.
“When the image came onto the screen, everyone said, Oh my gosh, what’s that?” said marine zoologist Laurence Madin of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.
The new species, called Teuthidodrilus samae (literally the “squid worm of the Sama”) or the squidworm, was first observed in 2007 using a remotely-operated submersible.
It was recently described in the Royal Society’s Biology Letters journal in the article “The remarkable squidworm is an example of discoveries that await in deep-pelagic habitats”, authored by Madin, along with Karen Osborn and Greg W. Rouse, both from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
The squidworm, which grows up to nearly four inches (nine centimetres) long, sports ten tentacles that stick out of its head (thus the “squid” in its name), along with six pairs of curved nuchal organs that allow it to taste and smell. It moves by “paddling” through the water with rows of long thin filaments that protrude along both sides of its body.
An entirely new genus, the level above species in the taxonomical ladder for classifying animals and plants, had to be created for the creature.
“I was really excited,” said Osborn, describing seeing the squidworm for the first time. “It was so tantalising because the animal was so different from anything previously described, with the fantastic headgear.”
The squidworm lives in the little-explored area 100 to 200 metres above the ocean floor, a region Osborn says could hold even more previously undiscovered fauna.
“I would estimate that when exploring the deep water column, more than half the animals we see are undescribed or new to science,” she said.
Genetic analysis has determined that the squidworm is an annelid, which despite the vast difference in appearance, is related to the common earthworm.
“For a worm these guys are quite large,” Osborn added.