Friday 6 April 2012

Sand Mason Worm

Image: Dan Marsh
They construct their own homes! Always nice to see a worm who's good with his... hands?

Sand Masons are polychaete worms who live in burrows in tidal areas throughout the northern hemisphere.

They get their name from the rather impressive structures they build for themselves. It's a tube made out of sand and bits of shell cemented together with good, ol' mucus.

One can't help but feel disappointed at our own lack of ingenuity when it comes to making use of mucus. Other creatures seem to have all sorts of inventive ways of utilizing this valuable, renewable resource. We just put it in tissue paper and bin it. Some day, I hope our cars will be powered with mucus.

"Liberated" from home
The Sand Mason's tower may rise just a few centimetres from the floor, but the actual worm inside is more like 30 cm (a foot) in length. Quite long! Their masonry skills allow them to rebuild or extend their tube should it become damaged or covered in yet more sand. So you can actually build a house on sand! You just need to add a bit more to the top every now and again. Also mucus. You need mucus.

Image: gypsy_roadhog via Flickr
Speaking of the top, Sand Masons have a tangle of tentacles sprouting from their head and their home looks much the same. This eccentric penthouse apartment provides support for those tentacles when they're stretched out seeking plankton to capture.

But this food source isn't always so important. Sand Masons are also detritivores, scavenging tidbits from the surrounding grounds.

The thing is, they can occur in huge numbers in certain areas. They've been recorded at as many as 10,000 individuals per square metre! They may be quite long, but it's a good thing they're still so thin. As you can imagine, there's not much food to be had from such tiny back gardens so the plankton must offer some particularly fine dining.

Image: Wikimedia
And just to confuse matters, Sand Masons spend the first 2 months of their lives as plankton.

In less than a week they'll start building their own little tubes to float around in, constructed out of detritus and mucus. Or "sticky gold" as I hope to one day call it.

When old enough, they'll settle on the floor, build up their sand tower and start eating their old plankton friends.

Unfortunately this is just the kind of thing that happens when children acquire remarkable skills at too young an age. One minute you're weeping at their beautiful rendition of Bach, the next you're pulling out another child's leg from their bloody jaws. It turns their heads, you know.


Bill said...

Fascinating. We used to collect sand worms in shallow bays on the coast to fish for flounder but they were a different variety, I think. I do know that when we located them there were hundreds in one area. Very cool post!

Joseph JG said...

Thanks, Bill! It's a fascinating animal; always interesting when they build things out of their surroundings.

TexWisGirl said...

you always make me laugh.

ogu01 said...

Awesome article, I really enjoyed it