Newly Discovered Deep Sea “Elvis” Worms

Researchers from University of California, San Diego and Paris-Sorbonne University, France found four new species of deep-sea scale worms thousands of meters underwater in Monterey Canyon, California. In a paper published in the journal ZooKeys, the worms names are named Peinaleopolynoe which means 'hungry scale worm’, and listed as Peinaleopolynoe goffrediae; P. mineoi; P. orphanae; and P. elvisi - named after Elvis Presley, for its cream-colored glittery iridescent scales that resemble the late musicians sequins jumpsuits.

The scales on the new worms shine in myriad iridescente glitzy colors, found mostly on the top layers of the worm scales. The iridescence is brighter on the thicker scale layers. Bristles encircling the worms’ bodies add a flair of fringe and fiber optics, to complete the full costume effect. One could say they look like worms that Lisa Frank herself would draw!

They live on the ocean floor, where there is no light, and food is hard to come by. They survive at vents and methane seeps where nutrients and sources of energy literally bubble up from the sea floor. However, P. goffredi and P. elvisi have also been found in whale falls - that is, where a dead whale has sunk to the ocean floor, providing nutrients to hungry invertebrates.

In some worms, like P. orphanae, their thicker and more vivid scales had notches from other worms biting them during attacks, leading researchers to believe their shimmering scales are used not for discos or pageants, but as armor to protect themselves when fighting one another.

In a video posted to YouTube, one worm is observed trying to take a bite out of another. Before and after the quick attack, it engages in a sort of back-and-forth shuffle. Though the meaning behind the aggression and movements, as well as the reason for the glittery colors in their scales, are as yet unknown, the discovery of this fabulous deep-sea creature is fascinating. It serves to remind us that even under the harshest conditions something beautiful can be discovered.

It’s possible the glitter serves no evolutionary purpose but is a side-effect of something else. In the deep ocean where sunlight is dim or non-existent, 90% of creates are luminescent. This can help creatures communicate via light, find prey, defend against predators, or attract mates. Whatever the reason, these glitter worms are among the most entrancing creatures around.