One of the new Peinaleopolynoe worms is named after Elvis because its iridescent scales look like costume sequins.
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.
Listen: the world is kinda rough right now. But scientists just discovered a GLITTER-COVERED WORM at the bottom of the ocean and we need to talk about it! Time for a wonder break! [mini thread] pic.twitter.com/gzfdexjvcg
— Open Ocean Exploration (@RebeccaRHelm) May 13, 2020
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.”