- Published on Tuesday, 02 October 2012 14:19
- Written by Andy Lamb
By Andy Lamb
Some marine creatures are very easy to identify. A simple glace at an image or a specimen of a grunt sculpin or a sunflower star provides confirmation. Their distinct shapes and body structures are readily recognizable.
At the other end of the spectrum, many less distinctive organisms prove more difficult to identify – not only for a recreational diver but even for an acknowledged authority. In particular, sponges, worms, bryozoans and tunicates provide many very similar-looking species that defy individual recognition and identification. Not only does a definitive ID require an actual specimen for detailed examination but microscopes, biological keys (word roadmaps) and other aids are needed. Simply looking at an image or two, no matter how good their quality, can lead to error. An unfortunate example follows.
Unable to assign a name to the ‘little red worm’ that appeared in Volume 13, Issue 6, June, 2009, I sent the (image 1) to Sheila Byers, a professional biologist and acknowledged polychaete worm authority. I suspected that without supplying a specimen, its species name was out of the question. Nonetheless, Sheila worked at this difficult task and tentatively categorized the creature as a goddess worm, Family Nephtyidae. Anxious for some closure with an identity to photographer Paul Sim’s subject and wanting to use a “pretty worm” for my monthly feature, I submitted the article.
Recently, Karin Fletcher sent me (image 2) that she took, while diving with husband Doug Miller, in Rich Passage, near Port Orchard Washington in April, 2012. This perplexing photograph shows what appears to be Paul’s ‘little red worm’ in very close association with smaller, patterned worms. Examining these, Sheila has altered her initial but tentative identification and now believes that both the ‘red’ worm (a reproductive stage) and the patterned worms are likely two different species of necklace-worms, Family Syllidae (pages 133 to 135, in Marine Life of the Pacific Northwest). If so, these worms need to be added to the current syllid roster.
It must be stressed that ultimate species verification depends on examination of actual specimens.