This week: Some cool examples of predation by a predator, you've probably NEVER heard of! And yet, they are deadly, efficient and can take down prey or food that is MANY times their body size.
I am of course talking about the Nemertea aka the Ribbon worms (or sometimes the proboscis worms)! This is actually a whole PHYLUM of worms, which in spite of their superficial appearance, are actually VERY different from flatworms and have a very significant number of internal features..
There's somewhere in the neighborhood of 1300 species of ribbon worms. Most are flattened and can be VERY elongate with some (e.g., Lineus longissimus) approaching 60 METERS (nearly 200 feet) long! Most occur in the oceans but there are freshwater and terrestrial species as we'll see.
Here's a nice summary of info from the Smithsonian magazine.
They capture food using an eversible proboscis which, thanks to the internet's fascination with weird, gross stuff, you have undoubtedly seen in a variety of formats. Here's two of the popular ones: the red Thailand species expelling its bizarre, almost fractal proboscis:
and of course this green one from Taiwan!
Here's the thing though, the above two video/gifs? Showed these animals in stressed situations outside of their natural environment. And NOT demonstrating their mastery of their predatory proboscis appeasing their ravenous rhyncocoel!
These animals likely represent a HUGE ecological impact which is probably difficult to study owing to their rather cryptic nature.
Here today is a nice little collection of ribbon worms "strutting their stuff" with some GREAT images showing attacking/devouring prey (thanks to YouTube and Flickr!)
Some ribbon worms such as these huge Antarctic ribbon worms (Parborlasia corrugatus) are both scavengers AND predators and have been reported as feeding on nearly ANYTHING: fecal pellets, starfish, dead seal meat, fish, sponges, sea anemones, worms amphipods, penguin meat AND sardine meat with tomato sauce! and on and on....
5. POLYCHAETE WORMS! Polychaete worms of various types appear to be a popular food among ribbon worms.
Here's one image by James Zhan showing a large ribbon worm consuming a "paddle worm"
This one is impressive. You can actually watch the proboscis IN ACTION as its used to attack its polychaete prey!
|Image from Wetpixel, photo by lindai http://wetpixel.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=51604|
From two different sources. Marvyn Yeo shows us this ribbon worm seemingly coming up behind a tiny crab..
Most ribbon worms live in the ocean, but a sparing few have gotten into freshwater and even terrestrial habitats! And yes.. with those same predatory habits!
I'll be honest though, some of these can be pretty difficult to ID even to phylum. these were identified as ribbon worms but I suppose they could easily be flatworms.
This one is from the Falkland Islands/Malvinas..
But good grief: LOOK AT THAT! Amazing.