Procreating Polychaete Worms

While I'm on the subject of cool stuff from blackwater diving (juvenile flying gurnard, Pseudamia amblyuroptera), here is a pair of amphinomid polychaete worms (possibly Genus Eurythoe) engaged in reproduction:

Amphinomid polychaete worms spawning
Amphinomid polychaete worms spawning (License image)

If you're a diver, you might recognise these as being fireworms, named for the stinging pain that ensues if you accidently touch one. Those fine hairs contain a neurotoxin.

Yeah, I know. Most people wouldn't invest the time and effort to pursue two fireworms twirling round-and-round in Brownian fashion in black water at night.

Here's the background: I saw a few lone worms sending out smoke-like plumes, so I suspected they were spawning. The best way for me to confirm was to get a photo. One problem though...the ones leaving wispy plumes in their wake were moving far too rapidly and unpredictably.

Coming across this love-locked annelid couple thus gave me the perfect opportunity to create an aesthetically pleasing(?) image of an otherwise creepy(!) subject and send it to my friend Leslie Harris, who is the Collections Manager for the polychaetous annelids department at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles.

Yes, she stares at segmented worms all the time, and she is my go-to person for anonymous annelid answers.

In this instance, she confirmed that the worms are engaged in reproduction, thus giving me that warm, fuzzy feeling that comes with witnessing and documenting the tender, loving caress of prickly polychaetes.