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A bizarre seabed creature covered in glowing orange, spaghetti-like tentacles recently made its Internet debut in newly released video footage. The unusual pom-pom-shaped creature is actually a type of segmented marine worm known as a polychaete, and it belongs to an aptly named group: spaghetti worms.
Researchers from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) captured footage of the pasta-like worm in 2012 using a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), while exploring the Gulf of California off the coast of Mexico. They escaped video (opens in a new tab) July 1 on MBARI’s YouTube channel to celebrate World Polychaete Day.
This particular species of spaghetti worm has not yet been given an official name, but it belongs to the genus Biremis. It has no eyes or gills and uses its brightly colored tentacles to capture the small pieces of organic debris, also known as marine snow, that it feeds on, according to a MBARI statement (opens in a new tab).
Most spaghetti worms live in caves or tunnels under the ocean floor and just stick their noodle-like tentacles into the water to pick up morsels of food. But this Biremis the worm spends its life above ground and has previously been observed swimming through the water or crawling along the ocean floor to find places where food is plentiful, according to MBARI.
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Another group of MBARI scientists first discovered the unnamed spaghetti worm in 2003 after spotting it in the Gulf of California using another ROV. But almost two decades after the first sighting, scientists are still working to name the species.
“Although giving a species its own name appears to be a simple process, it actually takes a lot of time and dedication to collect specimens, examine key traits, sequence DNA and assign a scientific name,” MBARI representatives said in the statement .
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It is unclear exactly how deep this worm can stay, but a majority of sightings have occurred below 2,000 meters below the surface, according to MBARI.
This spaghetti worm highlights how little scientists know about deep-sea species and the roles these animals play in their ecosystems. Continued exploration of the deep sea and the creatures that live there is very important, especially as many deep sea ecosystems are being degraded by destructive practices such as deep sea mining or trawling, according to MBARI.
“Undoubtedly, many more like wonderful worms Biremis awaiting discovery in the mysterious depths of the ocean,” MBARI representatives said.
Originally published on Live Science.