Newly discovered 'glitter worms' dance and fight one another underwater

One of the new Peinaleopolynoe worms is named after Elvis because its iridescent scales look like costume sequins.

Bonnie Burton
Journalist Bonnie Burton writes about movies, TV shows, comics, science and robots. She is the author of the books Live or Die: Survival Hacks, Wizarding World: Movie Magic Amazing Artifacts, The Star Wars Craft Book, Girls Against Girls, Draw Star Wars, Planets in Peril and more! E-mail Bonnie.
Bonnie Burton
3 min read

Here's a closer look at the newly-discovered scale worms: (A) Peinaleopolynoe orphanae, (B) Peinaleopolynoe elvisi, (C) Peinaleopolynoe goffrediae and (D)Peinaleopolynoe mineoi. 

ZooKeys Journal

What's covered in glittery colors, lives deep underwater and dances during fights? Four new species of deep-sea worms covered in colorful, iridescent scales.

Researchers from University of California, San Diego and Paris-Sorbonne University, France described the four newly-discovered species of deep-sea scale worms in a paper published Tuesday in the journal ZooKeys. The worms are named Peinaleopolynoe goffrediae; P. mineoi; P. orphanae; and P. elvisi (named after Elvis).

The scales on the new worms shine with iridescent purple, pink and blue colors. The shiny colors are found mostly on the top layers of the worm scales. The researchers found that the iridescence was brighter on the thicker scale layers. The worms also have bristles that give off a glittery fiber optics light effect. 

"Our nickname for them was Elvis worms because they look like sequins on an Elvis jumpsuit," marine biologist and study researcher Greg Rouse told Inside Science on Tuesday. Rouse works for Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego.

But the sequin-like scales aren't to show off the worms' beauty. The worms are too far from sunlight to be seen by other marine life. These Peinaleopolynoe worms were found thousands of meters underwater in Monterey Canyon, California. The worm P. orphanae was actually discovered near a hydrothermal vent from an underwater volcano in the Gulf of California, Mexico at Pescadero Basin.

Researchers think the colorful rigid scales on the worms are used as armor to protect themselves when fighting one another. In some cases, as with the P. orphanae worms, their thicker and more vivid scales had notches from other worms biting them during attacks. 

In a video posted last year by Rouse, two worms can be seen engaged in an act of aggression, with one worm trying to take a bite out of another worm. Before and after the worm is attacked, it's observed doing a very bizarre kind of back and forth dance movement. 

"Here is a pair of a new species of scale worm interacting on the deep sea floor," Rouse wrote in the video description. "Why the aggression and what it means are unknown, but it is amazing to be able to watch this. I sped the video up by 4x."

The researchers didn't comment on whether the Peinaleopolynoe worms are cannibalistic, or just like to bite each other when fighting. But the unusual worms are often found eating carcasses of creatures much larger than themselves. 

"Peinaleopolynoe means 'hungry scaleworm' as these creatures are often found living on dead carcasses like whale falls," Rouse added.

Whale falls are the bodies of whales that die then sink to the bottom of the ocean. These whale bodies prove to be a significant food source for everything from sponges to octopuses, and in this case, Peinaleopolynoe worms.


Here's closer dorsal views of the P. orphanae worm. The arrows indicate bite marks received by fighting with other P. orphanae worms.

ZooKeys Journal

While there is a lot to discover about these deep-sea Peinaleopolynoe worms, University of North Carolina Asheville professor Rebecca R. Helm (who was not part of the worm study) tweeted about the amazing find, and why we should appreciate these glittery fighting worms. 

"There's still so much we don't know about these creatures," Helm tweeted on Wednesday. "But if glitter worms teach us anything, it's that even in the harshest places there is still wonder and beauty. Times are tough, but never forget the awe and majesty of life on this strange blue planet."

Helm wasn't the only one online who marveled at the beauty of the new Peinaleopolynoe worms. 

"We salute you, glittery-monching-battle-worm. You are the best of us," one person tweeted

Another worm fan tweeted, "Introducing the first non-legendary Pokemon to be revealed in the Isle of Armor expansion..."

Bizarre sea creatures pose in pictures

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