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Bombs away! A deep sea worm's defense

This is one of the first green bombers (Swima bombiviridis) collected from Monterey Bay and photographed by Steve Haddock of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. Several green bombs are visible near the animal's long coiled head palps.
[Image 2001 S.H.D. Haddock]

Researchers have discovered several new species of deep-sea worms that let loose tiny balloon-like structures, which start to glow a brilliant green as soon as they detach from the worms' bodies.

These glowing "bombs" probably serve to distract predators while the worms escape, like squid ink does, according to Karen Osborn of Scripps Institution of Oceanography and her colleagues. These scientists are reporting their discovery in the August 21 issue of the journal Science.

The researchers discovered these worms during deep sea dives by a remotely operated submersible, off the coast of the Philippines and the west coast of the United States and Mexico.

This is a ventral view of Swima sp. 1 with three attached and two autotomized bombs.
[Image 2004 Karen J. Osborn]

They found seven new species altogether, five of which release these unusual "bombs." Four of the species live close to the sea floor, and three of them live farther up in the water column. All are excellent swimmers, which use fans of long bristles that form swimming paddles.

The authors say their findings are an important reminder of how little we currently know about the deep sea.