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Strange Filament Discoveries on Oregon Coast Explained: Weird Cellophane Worm

Published 03/03/2018 at 12:35 PM PDT - Updated 03/04/2018 at 1:35 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Strange Filament-like Finds on Oregon Coast Explained: the Weird Cellophane Worm

(Oregon Coast) – A puzzling sight for visitors to the Oregon coast has become the subject of many questions to locals, especially the Seaside Aquarium. Small, filament-like objects are washing up left and right onto the beaches, looking a bit like jumbled masses of high tech garbage – or perhaps something a little alien. (Photos courtesy Seaside Aquarium).

Tiffany Boothe of Seaside Aquarium snagged these shots in recent days, showing what are the former bodies of a marine life called the cellophane worm.

“Tube worm casings have been washing in and quite a few people have been asking us about them,” Boothe said. “These casings, produced by the cellophane worm (Spichaetopterus costarum), often wash ashore in masses along the Oregon coast.

“Living just below the low tide line of sandy beaches, cellophane worms build and inhabit these seemingly plastic 'tubes,' which become encrusted with sand. Currents and upwellings bring these tubes to the surface, eventually distributing them onto shore.”

They are tiny – about one to two centimeters long – which makes those blobs of them a little more remarkable.

This tiny critter has rings around it. It lives just below the surface of the sand and is covered in a tube. The cellophane worms' casings get knocked off of them during high surf events and pile up on the shore. The creatures themselves disappear back beneath the surface, however.

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Why do they suddenly appear? It comes down to the creatures being taken by surprise by the way sand levels can build up quickly, then they get bounced around when their new real estate suddenly turns out to be too close to a raucous surface.

CoastWatch’s Fawn Custer told Oregon Coast Beach Connection in 2016 the creatures are there all the time, it’s just that certain conditions unearth them and scatter them onshore.

“They feel like hair,” she said. “They're very pliable. You can squeeze them.”

Cellophane worms live just beyond the low tide line, where the tubes sit near or just above the surface of the sand and suck in their food, which is tiny bits of formerly living matter in the ocean. When the tubes come off, they grow another by secreting a kind of goo that eventually hardens back into another tube. Where to stay in these areas - Where to eat - Maps and Virtual Tours

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