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A bizarre seafloor creature covered in bright orange, spaghetti-like tentacles recently made its internet debut in newly released video footage. The unusual pompom-shaped creature is actually a type of segmented sea worm known as a polychaete, and it belongs to a group aptly named: spaghetti worms.
Researchers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) captured footage of the pasta-mimicking worm using a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) in 2012 while exploring the Gulf of California off the coast of Mexico. They published the Video (opens in new tab) July 1st on MBARI’s YouTube channel in celebration of World Polychaete Day.
This particular species of spaghetti worm has yet to be officially named, but is in the genus Biremis. It has no eyes or gills and uses its brightly colored tentacles to catch the tiny bits of organic debris, also known as sea snow, that it feeds on MBARI Statement (opens in new tab).
Most spaghetti worms live in burrows or tunnels under the ocean floor, only sticking their noodle-like tentacles into the water to snatch up bits of food. But this Biremis According to MBARI, the worm spends its life above ground and has previously been observed swimming through the water or crawling across the seabed to find places where food is plentiful.
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Another group of MBARI researchers first discovered the unnamed spaghettiworm species in 2003 after spotting them in another ROV in the Gulf of California. But nearly two decades after that first sighting, scientists are still working on naming the species.
“Although giving a species its own name seems like a simple process, it actually takes a lot of time and dedication to collect samples, examine key characteristics, sequence the DNA and assign a scientific name,” MBARI officials said in the statement.
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It’s unclear exactly how deep this worm can reside, but according to MBARI, most sightings have been made below 6,560 feet (2,000 meters) below the surface.
This spaghetti worm shows how little scientists know about deep-sea species and the role these animals play in their ecosystems. Continued exploration of the deep sea and the creatures that live there is critical, especially since many deep sea ecosystems are being degraded by destructive practices such as deep sea mining or trawling, according to MBARI.
“No doubt many more wonderful worms like Biremis waiting to be discovered in the mysterious depths of the ocean,” MBARI officials said.
Originally published on Live Science.