Two divers recently found themselves dwarfed by a massive deep sea worm composed of hundreds of thousands of organisms. The two friends encountered the amazing sight during a dive off the coast of Whakaari, the stratovolcano on White Island, New Zealand.
The worm can be seen moving delicately through the water, occasionally shuddering and pulsating while the divers swim gently around it so not to disturb it.
These giant glowing seaworms aren’t actually worms, though. They’re pyrosomes. Pyrosomes are free-floating tunicates typically found in tropical ocean waters near the top of the water column.
Called the “unicorns of the sea” and soft like a feather boa, these pyrosomes are just another reminder of how weird the ocean can be.
Each pyrosome is actually a colony of thousands of individual zooids, which are only a few millimeters in size.
Zooids clone themselves, adding to the overall pyrosome and increasing its length. Typically, the bigger the pyrosome, the older it is due to this cloning process.
While some can grow to be the size of a small whale, others can be less than one centimeter long.
They have amazing bioluminescent properties, which have been said to be much more intense and sustained than other bioluminescent species. Biologist T.H. Huxley, described its brightness like this: “I have just watched the moon set in all her glory, and looked at those lesser moons, the beautiful Pyrosoma, shining like white-hot cylinders in the water.”
It’s easy to see how marine biologists are so enamored by this creature. As one marine biologist explained, “these horrifying giants, the spawn of the worst movie villains, are actually delicate and fragile.”
However, it is not exactly known how fragile they are, being that a penguin was once found trapped inside one after swimming in through the open end and getting lodged inside.