Big Pacific: Palolo Worms, the sprawling spectacle

From pages 23-24 of Big Pacific:

Mysteriously driven by the moon’s cycle, the mass spawning of Palolo worms leads to a unique annual harvest on many Pacific islands. In Samoa it is an eagerly anticipated, communal event. Equidistant between Hawai‘i and New Zealand, Samoa is part of the group of islands known as Polynesia. Samoans have long been sustained by the Pacific’s bounty, and they regard the protein-rich Palolo worms as an extra-special gift of the sea.

Between midnight and dawn — the timing depends on the exact location — the first few worms emerge from the coral reefs. Soon their writhing forms swirl upwards in the water like a frenzy of animated scribbles.

Harvested epitokes are eaten raw, fried in butter or cooked with egg or onion.

Measuring around 30 centimeters (12 inches) in length, these animals spend most of their lives buried inside the substrate of the ocean floor. Once a year they undergo a remarkable transformation, sprouting an extended tail segment, called an epitoke, that is filled with either eggs or sperm. The epitoke — colored either pale tan (male) or bluegreen (female) — also sports a primitive, light-sensitive eye that guides it to the sea’s surface.

Prompted somehow by lunar phases, all the worms in one area release their epitokes more or less in unison. This simultaneous timing maximizes the chances of fertilization and creates one of the ocean’s greatest mass spawning events.

After fertilization, the eggs drift away on the currents to hatch into larvae. For a time these form part of the ocean’s planktonic biomass, but eventually the maturing worms settle on the seafloor to begin the miraculous and mysterious cycle again.

Big Pacific: Passionate, Voracious, Mysterious, Violent
By Rebecca Tansley

The Pacific Ocean covers one-third of Earth’s surface—more than all of the planet’s landmasses combined. It contains half of the world’s water, hides its deepest places, and is home to some of the most dazzling creatures known to science. The companion book to the spectacular five-part series on PBS produced by Natural History New Zealand, Big Pacific breaks the boundaries between land and sea to present the Pacific Ocean and its inhabitants as you have never seen them before.

Illustrated in full color throughout, Big Pacific blends a wealth of stunning Ultra HD images with spellbinding storytelling to take you into a realm teeming with exotic life rarely witnessed up close—until now. The book is divided into four sections, each one focusing on an aspect of the Pacific. “Passionate Pacific” looks at the private lives of sea creatures, with topics ranging from the mating behaviors of great white sharks to the monogamy of wolf eels, while “Voracious Pacific” covers hunting and feeding. In “Mysterious Pacific,” you will be introduced to the Pacific’s more extraordinary creatures, like the pufferfish and firefly squid, and explore some of the region’s eerier locales, like the turtle tombs of Borneo and the skull caves of Papua New Guinea. “Violent Pacific” examines the effects of events like natural disasters on the development of the Pacific Ocean’s geography and the evolution of its marine life.

Providing an unparalleled look at a diverse range of species, locations, and natural phenomena, Big Pacific is truly an epic excursion to one of the world’s last great frontiers.

Learn more by watching Big Pacific, airing Sundays on PBS Guam and CPTV Spirit. Watch the trailer below:



This post is part of a series, explore additional posts here<< Big Pacific: The Galápagos Tortoise, a roaming reptileBig Pacific: The deep diving Marine Iguana >>