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 photos copyright John P. Hoover unless otherwise credited


Ribbon worms (nemerteans) of Hawai'i
Many thanks to Cory Pittman and Pauline Fiene, who found most of the animals shown here and took most of the photos.

The ribbon worms include about 900 species of long, thin, soft-bodied, often flattened animals. Carnivores, they are characterized by a long proboscis (sometimes tipped with barbs) which they shoot from an opening at the tip of the head to impale or entangle their prey. Some ribbon worms from temperate waters attain lengths of 4-5 ft.; one from the north Atlantic is reported to reach 60 ft! Although long, they are highly contractile—a 5 ft. worm can shrink to 6 in. Ribbon worms may have been the first animals to have both a mouth and an anus connected by a complete digestive tract. Fewer than 10 species have been identified in Hawai`i.
Learn more about ribbon worms at: http://www.earthlife.net/inverts/nemertea.html.

Here's an (incomplete) Bishop Museum list of Hawaiian ribbon worms.




BANDED RIBBON WORM
Baseodiscus cingulatus (Coe, 1906)
    Many narrow, reddish brown bands encircle the slender body, which, like many ribbon worms, can contract or expand. Fully extended, large specimens attain as much as 4 ft. The thicker end, marked with many small spots, is the head (not visible here). The species name means “girdle.” The first specimens of this ribbon worm were dredged from about 250 ft., but the animal is also encountered in shallow water and even in tide pools, usually at night. Known only from the Hawaiian Islands, where it is the most commonly encountered large ribbon worm. Photo: Kaohe Bay, Hawai`i. 10 ft.

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LINED RIBBON WORM

Baseodiscus hemprichii
(Ehrenberg, 1831)
     This worm is whitish to flesh-colored with a reddish or brownish line, sometimes very wide, running from the back of the head to the tail end of the body. The line widens at the front, often into a collar, and is interrupted by regularly spaced spots or transverse bands of a darker color. It occurs from Easter Island to the Red Sea and east coast of Africa, including Hawaii. It attains about 3 ft. in length. Photo: Hekili Point, Maui, in pool. See more photos of this worm on Keoki Stender's website.
     Note: Hawaiian specimens were originally described as Baseodiscus edmondsoni (Coe, 1934) and some authorities suggest that its synonomy with the true B. hemprichii (described from outside Hawaii) is questionable. Thus our local species might someday revert to its original scientific name. A smaller Hawaiian species, Baseodiscus univittatus (Coe, 1906), is similar but the red line runs continuously from the tip of the head to the posterior extremity of the body.

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MANY-LINED RIBBON WORM
? Baseodiscus delineatus
(Delle Chiaje, 1825)
     This worm is whitish with many discontinuous closely spaced reddish or pinkish lines. The pattern resembles that of Baseodiscus delineatus, a species not previously recorded from Hawaii. However, we know nothing of its internal structure so the ID is tentative. Cory Pittman collected the specimen in the upper two photos in Kahului Harbor, Maui, a location suggesting it might have been accidentally introduced. However, the tightly curled worm in the bottom photo was found at Whittington Beach Park on Hawaii Island, far from any harbors, so the species, whatever it is, is likely native to Hawaii after all. The true B. delineatus is known from the Atlantic and North Pacific oceans and occurs in brackish as well as marine environments, so it certainly could occur here. Top two photos: Cory Pittman.

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BELOW ARE SOME UNIDENTIFIED RIBBON WORMS
collected and photographed by Cory Pittman

HEAD-SPOT RIBBON WORM
Collected at Hekili Point, Olowalu, Maui on March 7, 2014. Cory notes that he has seen this small worm several times.

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RINGED RIBBON WORM
This small white or cream worm, found at Kapalua Bay, Maui, in March 2004, is marked with widely-spaced, discontinuous, narrow brown rings.

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WHITE-HEAD RIBBON WORM
This is a tiny 4-5 mm worm collected at Koloa Landing, Kauai, on May 30, 2014

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ORANGE-BROWN RIBBON WORM
This small 11 mm worm was found at Hekili Point, Olowalu, Maui, on April 19, 2012. Note the furrowed head.

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GREENISH-BROWN RIBBON WORM
This is a 30 mm worm taken in a wash from the Halimeda beds at Maalaea Bay, Maui, on April 7, 2013. The head has a whitish tip.

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ORANGE RIBBON WORM
Found at Black Rock, Maui, April 29, 2006, this worm might be the same as the expanded long yellow worm below..

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Below are some unidentified ribbon worms photographed by Pauline Fiene
Pauline Fiene sent me these photos of ribbon worms she has seen off Maui over the years.

YELLOW RIBBON WORM
Found and photographed on a dive off South Maui by Pauline Fiene

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CAMOUFLAGE RIBBON WORM
This worm was found by divers Lori and Bill Pottinger, who reported it had just eaten a fish! Pauline,who photographed it, arrived too late to see the action. Lori and Bill did not know what kind of a fish it had eaten.

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BLUE RIBBON WORM?
This worm seems to be stretched up out of a hole in the substrate. We are not sure it is a ribbon worm. It might be an annelid instead.

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  Text and photos copyright John P. Hoover unless otherwise credited