Slime Fan Worm   Myxicola infundibulum

This strange worm is a member of the polychaete group of worms which are characterized by a segmented body with many segments bearing bristles.  Polychaetes are very common in the marine environment.

Unlike its relatives, the slime fan worm is characterized by a fan whose tentacles are joined over most of their length.  In addition and most unusual, the body is encased in a thick, transparent gelatinous tube (other species use a leather-like material).  The fan is used to filter out plankton on which it feeds.  

This five inch long specimen (they can grow up to eight inches) was found under a float where it shared space with several other individuals forming a fist-sized jelly mass.    It normally occurs singly buried in mud or sand from the shallow subtidal zone to a depth of 90 ft below sea level.  It is most abundant in wave sheltered environments and can tolerate variable salinity levels.  It is widely distributed in the northern hemisphere occurring locally from the Bering Sea to California.

The animal possesses a giant nerve that runs the length of its body allowing it to rapidly retract into its tube when danger threatens.  Because of its large size, the nerve has been used by many scientists to study nerve physiology.

See video of Slime worm colony that includes other worm tubes.