Join me in the cold, dark, life-sustaining NE Pacific Ocean to discover the great beauty, mystery and fragility hidden there.

Wonder Worm

January 9th, 2011

While diving in the Plumper Island Group near Telegraph Cove, British Columbia, I chanced upon a white-ringed ribbon worm (Tubulanus albocinctus) fully out in the open. This is the first time I have been able to see the whole animal and marvelled at it’s length and colour. This “specimen” that I filmed was more than 1 metre long.  Apparently, they can reach 6 metres in length!

White-ringed ribbon worm found at about 30' (10m). Photo: Hildering


Ribbon worms have unsegmented bodies but what sets them apart from all other worm species is that they have a “proboscis”. The proboscis is a part of their gut that can be launched out to wrap around prey and then retract pulling the prey into the ribbon worm’s mouth.  Venom may also be associated with the proboscis. The white-ringed ribbon worm may prey on segmented worms, small crustaceans and maybe even some small fish. The proboscis can also be used for digging.

In the video clip (link below) you will see how the animal moves with powerful waves of muscular contraction (peristalsis). Small hairs called cilia also help it glide along.

In trying to find some basic facts about this species’ natural history, I discovered that very little is known about it even though it quite common in the Pacific Northeast. Although not able to find research to support this, I believe that the animal’s bright colour is a warning to predators that it tastes bad or is toxic.

I assure you I will be on the lookout for this wonder worm to try to learn more (I would love to see the proboscis in action)!

See the short video clip (30 sec) of my white-ringed ribbon worm encounter at this link.

More on ribbon worms at this link (includes a diagram of the internal anatomy).

Update January 12: A neighbour, Graham MacDonald, shared his observations of white-lined ribbon worms preying on rockweed isopods on a local sandy beach. He has repeatedly observed a black structure extending from the worm to the isopod and moving around on the isopod (likely the probosis). He noted that it appeared that the isopod was suffering (due to toxin or digestive juices?) and that it was a prolonged process. I will definitely be going to sandy beaches to see if I can capture this on film. Thank you Graham.

8 Responses to “Wonder Worm”

  1. Yvonne Postma

    That looks amazing Jackie, but sure that worm is longer than 1m. How wide do you reckon it is? It’s an interesting idea that its gut comes out to catch prey 🙂 Do you have any idea if they prefer just the cold water or could we also spot them here in the Arabian seas? I always love your videos by the way, is it that colourful everywhere you dive?

    • jackiehildering

      Hello Yvonne, You’re absolutely right that I underestimated its length. It is only about 1 cm wide to give you some perspective on size. Ribbon worms are believed to be more common in temperate seas than tropical waters. I will try to find out more specifically if you might chance upon one in your dive adventures. And yes . . . Nature has splashed colour everywhere here!
      Warm wishes! Time for bed here.

  2. Anonymous

    Jackie I (as always) have just so enjoyed these videos. I love the colour and am always impressed with your commentary. Thanks for being you.

  3. Anonymous

    Jackie I have so enjoyed these videos. I am so impressed with the colours and variety of fish. I also appreciate the commentary as I am quite unaware of what I am viewing sometimes. Still pics are lovely but don’t carry the same message for me.
    thanks for being you!

  4. Ev

    Jackie I have so enjoyed these videos. I am so impressed with the colours and variety of fish. I also appreciate the commentary as I am quite unaware of what I am viewing sometimes. Still pics are lovely but don’t carry the same message for me.
    thanks for being you!

  5. Sandra Dubpernell

    I forwarded this posting to a couple of fellow Island County Beach Watchers who are involved in beach monitoring. Mary Jo Adams said that a fellow beach walker had seen one of these worms on a South Whidbey Island beach measuring 40 feet long.
    Sandy Dubpernell, Central Puget Sound Marine Mammal Stranding Network.

    • jackiehildering

      Thank you Susan. Took up contact with Mary Jo and she shared: “I often read your postings and enjoy them very much. I do a lot of photography of intertidal life and have taken pictures of several species of our nemerteans here on Whidbey Island. I was talking to fellow Beach Watcher about them several years ago and she related a story to me that she had seen a ribbon worm that was stretched out quite a lot on the beach on a south Whidbey Island beach and had followed it along for an estimated 40 feet. She said it was so threadlike that she did not know what species it might be. The largest one I have photographed was one I believe to be of the genus Cerebratulus and it was about a meter long but it was not really distended but about the diameter of my thumb. We found it while digging in the sand on the beach near Langley (Whidbey Island).”


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