Below are some worms you might find out and about in the rocky intertidal or on the beaches. It isn’t an extensive set. I don’t flip rocks, dig around in the mussel beds, or otherwise do much disturbing—the kinds of things you would need to do to find some of the very cool worms. A few worms make an above-ground appearance on the beaches, and I confess I’ve turned a spade or two of sand to uncover the occupant of a likely burrow entrance. Identifying worms is a challenge, but that’s part of the fun. (I can usually get close with the field guides and online resources listed at the bottom of this page. When I can’t, it’s a delicious mystery.) This page is just a catalog of the worms I’ve found with my photographic take and a few words if I’ve thought of something that resonates with me and hasn’t already been over-said.
I use the organization followed by Lamb and Hanby (2005). Common names are my choice. I refer to WoRMS for scientific names, and I learn a ton by browsing the natural history riches in Kozloff’s (1993) pages. All photos are from northern Oregon unless noted in the caption.
Let the worms be upon you.
This intertidal predator is probably the ribbon worm, Amphiporus, maybe something like Amphiporus formidabilis. I feel like they are very abundant in the mussel beds where they are out and about when it’s cool and moist and when light levels are low. You can see this one’s head wrapped around a hapless isopod in the photo below. If this worm killed the isopod (it looks like Pentidotea), I’m impressed. There also seems to be some drama with the anemone. The iNaturalist page on Amphiporus is helpful.
Tubulanus polymorphus, orange ribbon worm
Orange ribbon worms are one of the brightest intertidal inhabitants. An individual can stretch from a few inches, like this one, to over two feet.
Here’s an identification mystery—a good-sized and beautiful worm and a bit fragile down toward the tail. I’ve seen it a few times when it appeared on the surface of exposed sandy beaches early in the morning during low tides.
Nephtys californiensis is the most substantial goddess worm you’ll find on the clean sandy beaches of the exposed outer coast. Healthy specimens are somewhat iridescent.
The first time I touched a mound, I was surprised at how hard it was. The few good-sized colonies I’ve come across have been in places that get some surf, though set back slightly, avoiding a direct pounding.
I know this worm from its tubes, which wash up on sandy beaches. Folks in my orbit call it the cellophane tube worm. Lamb and Hanby use jointed three-section tubeworm, and the iNaturalist crowd goes with glassy tubeworm.
Harbo, R. M. 2011. Whelks to Whales: Coastal Marine Life of the Pacific Northwest. 2nd ed. Harbour Publishing Co.
Kozloff, E. N. 1993. Seashore Life of the Northern Pacific Coast. 3rd ed. University of Washington Press.
Lamb, A. and B. P. Hanby. 2005. Marine Life of the Pacific Northwest. Harbour Publishing.
Light, S. F., 2007. The Light & Smith Manual: Intertidal Invertebrates from Central California to Oregon. 4th ed., edited by J. T. Carlton. University of California Press.
Sept. J. D. 2009. The Beachcomber’s Guide to Seashore Life in the Pacific Northwest. Revised ed. Harbour Publishing.
Biodiversity of the Central Coast’s Marine Worms page
Friends of Netarts Bay WEBS Worms page
iNaturalist’s pages on worms are full of good browsing material. Here are some I looked at while preparing this page:
Fringed Filament Worm (Dodecaceria fewkesi)
Glassy Tubeworm (Spiochaetopterus costarum ssp. pottsi)
This page was updated on July 3, 2021