Tropic Of Capricorn

Coral reefs of the world (pink): primarily confined to shallow waters between latitudes 30-degrees North and 30-degrees South.

must be coming from sea creatures swimming at the surface, we bolted for the lab, grabbed nets and jars and buckets, and raced back, lest the swarm of oceanic fireflies retreat to the depths as suddenly as they had arrived.

Our efforts were quickly rewarded. The comparison to fireflies did not hold up, once we examined our catch, but firefly larvae, or glowworms, would have been a better analogy. A centimeter or two in length, the flashing creatures were segmented worms, annelids, of the most common marine group, the polychaetes. Many of the thousands of species of marine polychaetes are blind, but these had large, numerous eyes, obvious under the low-power microscope. The rear portion of the body of each worm was completely filled with ripe gonads, glowing with the eerie yellow-green of bioluminescence. Every few seconds, as we watched, male and female worms would shudder and contract, spewing out a cloud of phosphorescent eggs or sperm. We were witnessing pyrotechnic orgasms of the sort that happen, in human experience, rather less often than one might wish.

Later, I learned that the creature we observed that night was the Bermuda Fireworm, Odontosyllis enopla. It is thought to spend most of its time feeding on organic sediments in the shallow, gravelly bottoms of protected coves. Its spawning behavior is timed to coincide with lunar phases. In summer, when the Bermuda Fireworm's reproductive cycle reaches its peak three days after the full moon, females appear at the surface about an hour after sunset and begin discharging clouds of glowing eggs. Smaller males, attracted by the flashes of light emitted by the females, soon join the orgy. Their luminescent sperm, in turn, attracts more of the

PaƮt 2 - Introduction 147

Bioluminescent Bermuda Fireworm
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