Common Clam Worm, Alitta succinea

The Common Clam Worm (Alitta succinea) is a species of marine annelid of the Nereididae family of ragworms or sandworms. It is found throughout the Northwest Atlantic Ocean, especially in the Gulf of Maine; it is also found off the coast of South Africa.

This species can reach a length of 6 inches, but most specimens are smaller. It is brown in color at the rear, and reddish-brown on the rest of the body. The head has four eyes, two sensory feelers and numerous tentacles. The body consists of three segments: the anterior prostomium, posterior prostomium, and the posterior pygidium.

This free-swimming polychaete is an ocean floor scavenger that feeds on other worms and algae. It feeds by using its proboscis — which has two hooks at the end — to grasp prey and draw it into its mouth. This worm is also an important food source for other bottom-feeding fish and crustaceans. However, the worm will protect itself by secreting a mucus substance that hardens to form a cocoon-like sheath around them.

During the lunar phases in the spring and early summer, the clam worm’s parapodia (ridge-like formations on its sides) enlarge so it can swim and release its eggs and sperm into the water column. The clam worm then dies soon after releasing its eggs and sperm.  The larvae develop, grow into adults and then eventually sink to the bottom of the ocean.

Image Caption: Epitoke form from de Spuikom, Oostende – Belgium. Credit: Hans Hillewaert/Wikipedia(CC BY-SA 3.0)