Nereis vexillosa Grube, 1851

Common name(s): Banner sea-nymph, pile worm, sand worm, mussel worm, clam worm

Synonyms:  Nereis vexillosa
Phylum Annelida 
Subclass Palpata 
Order Aciculata 
Suborder Phyllodocida 
Family Nereididae (formerly Nereidae) 
Nereis vexillosa, about 24 cm long, found at Padilla Bay.
(Photo by: Dave Cowles, July 2009 )
Description:   As a member of Family Nereididae, few if any segments are longer than wide, the notosetae from the two sides do not almost meet along the dorsal midline, the prostomium does not extend as a dorsal  caruncle back over the segments posterior to it, there is no circle of tentacles around the mouth (photo), the prostomium has two antennae (photo), and a pair of palps which are differentiated into two units, the distal unit of which is substantial even though it is smaller than the proximal unit (photo).  Some of the setae are compound (photo).  The pharynx (proboscis, visible when everted) is delineated into two parts, with a pair of stout jaws on the distal part and conical teeth (paragnaths) on both parts (photo).  The peristomium has four pairs of tentacular cirri which arise on the anterolateral corners (photo).  Usually two pairs of eyes are present.  The parapodia on the first two setigers are uniramous, and biramous on all subsequent setigers.  Both the notopodia and the neuropodia have acicular lobes which are often small, plus one to three conspicuous lobes above and below the acicular lobes called ligules (photo).  The shape and arrangement of the ligules varies among species.  In Nereis vexillosa the ventral cirrus of all parapodia is simple, the tentacular cirri of the peristomium are not constricted into several units (photo), the segment behind the peristomium is not expanded into a large collar around the peristomium (photo), all of the paragnaths on the eversible  proboscis (pharynx) are conical (not elongated transversely or comblike)(photo), some paragnaths are present on the distal part of the proboscis (photo), the posterior notopodia have homogomph  falcigerous setae, and the upper ligule of the notopodia in the posterior region is much larger than the lower ligule and is strap-shaped, with a terminal cirrus (photo, easily recognized characteristic).  Color is greenish or greenish brown, often with blue tones; may appear iridescent in direct sun.  Has 4 black eyes.  The tentacular cirri are short (photo).  The animal is often large for a polychaete--up to 30 cm long and 1.2 cm wide.

How to Distinguish from Similar Species:  The large, strap-shaped upper ligule in the posterior notopodia is very helpful in identifying this species.  In Nereis grubei and N. neoneanthes the upper ligule of the posterior notopodia is not strap-shaped. Nereis wailesi has no paragnaths on the distal proboscis. Nereis brandti has no homogomph  falcigerous  setae on the posterior notopodia and the dorsal  ligule of the parapodia is large and leaflike.

Geographical Range: Alaska to San Diego; Pacific coast of Russia

Depth Range:  Mid to low intertidal

Habitat:  Intertidal with mussels and barnacles, on pilings, in sandy mud and cobbles, and in algal holdfasts.

Biology/Natural History:   The large jaws on the distal portion (maxillary ring) of the eversible  pharynx are used for seizing prey or tearing algae (Nereids usually eat algae).  The smaller denticles (paragnaths) on the proximal portion (oral ring) are used for burrowing.

Family Nereididae are called sea nymphs and are common polychaete worms in this area.  Intertidal species are sometimes called ragworms.  Nereids reproduce by releasing parts of their body as epitokes, which swim to the surface in mating swarms.  Nereid  epitokes are swollen with eggs or sperm, large parapodia, paddle-like chaetae, and large eyes.  Day length is important in swarming of epitokes, and near-shore lights can affect the timing of swarms.  In our area, spawning may occur shortly before midnight.  The mating swarms release pheromones into the water which induces mating activity.  The male epitokes swarm first and the females will not release their eggs unless in the presence of the males.  The eggs are released into the water in the swarms, through ruptures in the body walls.  In N. vexillosa the female releases an agglutinating material along with her eggs.  Both male and female epitokes (heteronereids) die after spawning.  The mass, with eggs inside, sinks to the bottom and grows to about the size of a bluish-green chicken egg.  Larvae remain as plankton for hours to months.  In the Pacific Northwest the mating swarms usually occur in late winter or spring.

This worm is often used for fishing bait. It squirms violently and everts its proboscis and jaws when captured, and may bite.



Dichotomous Keys:
  Carlton, 2007
  Flora and Fairbanks, 1966
  Kozloff, 1987, 1996

General References:
   Harbo, 1999
  Johnson and Snook, 1955
  Kozloff, 1993
  Lamb and Hanby, 2005
  Niesen, 1994
  Niesen, 1997
  O'Clair and O'Clair
  Ricketts et al., 1985

Scientific Articles:

Web sites:

General Notes and Observations:  Locations, abundances, unusual behaviors:

The prostomium (right) has two antennae and two large, two-segmented palps.  The peristomium (segment behind the prostomium) has 4 pairs of tentacular cirri.  This photo is a 3d composite made from a series of photos using a Keyence digital microscope.  Photo by Dave Cowles, July 2009
Ventral view of distended pharynx
This ventral view of the partially distended pharynx shows the large grasping jaws on the anterior portion and the sets of smaller conical teeth (paragnaths) on several of the sections. The pharynx is being distended because of pressure from my finger, which is visible on the extreme left. Photo by Dave Cowles, June 2020

Undistended pharynx ventral view
This ventral view of the prostomium and peristomium of the same individual with the distended pharynx above shows the undistended configuration. The prostomium extends anterior to the peristomium (to the right in this view) dorsally to the larger peristomium (to the left in this view). The pharynx is not visible because it is within the slitlike mouth on the peristomium. Photo by Dave Cowles, June 2020

Distended pharynx dorsal view
This dorsal view of the same individual shows a partly distended pharynx from above. The pharynx is not quite distended enough in this view to see the large anterior grasping jaws. but some of the paragnaths are visible.  Photo by Dave Cowles, June 2020

Eggs and head
This individual kept gradually releasing eggs while being examined. Many female polychaete worms store their eggs in their coelom (body cavity) and release them through ruptures in the body wall. Where the eggs were being released from this individual was not obvious--no large ruptures were apparent. Nereids release their eggs from a modified body or part of the body called an epitoke so this individual is either already an epitoke or is nearly ready to be modified into one. No agglutinating material seemed to be sticking these eggs together either, so the release of eggs was not as normally done in this species. Photo by Dave Cowles, June 2020

This dorsal view of the posterior body shows the prominent, straplike ligules with attached terminal  cirrus which are characteristic of this species.

This dorsal view of the parapodia shows the small aciculae with large ventral and even larger dorsal lobes (ligules).

Compound setae
Most of the setae are compound (composed of more than one segment).
Closer examination by compound microscope would show this to be a homogomph  falcigerous seta.  A falciger is a seta in which the tip is comparatively blunt and curved.  A homogomph  seta is a compound seta in which the basal segment ends in a slightly expanded capsule, the two sides of which are of approximately equal height (as opposed to heterogomph, in which one side of the capsule is extended well out past the other).

Authors and Editors of Page:
Dave Cowles (2009):  Created original page
CSS coding for page developed by Jonathan Cowles (2007)