Changing Planet

Worm’s Mysterious Blue Slime Decoded?

A full-body fluorescence image of the parchment tube worm. Photograph courtesy Dimitri Deheyn, Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.

Shooting out glowing blue slime is a pretty cool superpower.

Parchment tube worms—a common marine animal—have this ability, and Dimitri Deheyn of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego is one of the researchers asking how they do it.

The worm itself has a fluorescent green glow when seen under black light, but its bioluminescent glow is blue. If you’re diving and touch the animal, it will produce its blue mucus, said Deheyn. The blue slime is rare in that its light lingers rather than flickering out like the quick glint of a firefly.

The process by which Chaetopterus variopedatus emits that light is quite unique as well. In a recent study, researchers from Scripps and Connecticut College in New London found that riboflavin—also known as vitamin B2—was one component in the light emission. Bioluminescent animals usually employ bacteria to give off their eerie glow, but that wasn’t the case with the parchment tube worm.

Other things that produce a lingering luminescence—like bacteria and fungus—need oxygen to keep the lights on. But in the parchment tube worm’s case, “you can remove the oxygen and the light will stay,” said Deheyn.

“What we are working on right now is to describe the biochemistry of this new light-producing reaction in the worm,” he added. It could have numerous potential applications for biomedical and other types of research.

Liz Langley is the award-winning author of Crazy Little Thing: Why Love and Sex Drive Us Mad and has written for many publications including Salon, Details and the Huffington Post. Follow her on Twitter @LizLangley and at
  • Ima Ryma

    A parchment tube worm I am named.
    I make a tube of parchment sort,
    Then into the tube I go, aimed
    To live my life, be long or short.
    Attached to coral reef marine,
    Sucking in plankton for takeout,
    All in all, a simple routine.
    So that’s what my life’s all about.
    But if I’m bothered from outside,
    I produce a mucus bright blue,
    The lingering light fortified
    By lots of vitamin B2.

    Why be blue bioluminesce?
    To match my don’t have eyes, I guess.

  • Liz Langley

    @Ima Ryma What a nice mix of science and art. 🙂

  • Akhil

    Is that why they named you Rhyma? 🙂


    Great Picture!
    We have been working on underwater fluorescence too.!i=2952270594&k=bnmWHbV

  • Eric Simpson

    How about a link to an image/video of the blue glow?

  • Joseph Jiongco

    Oh gosh, the creature looks like something exactly from flOw, or which flOw creatures were based from! (ref:

  • rubio

    Great life underwater.

  • Douglas Campbell

    so that preditors will engulf the blue slim light that the worm displays.The worm lives another day and the preditore is decieved into thinking and tasting a meal of slim.Iam sure it has some nutient value for the preditor.Nature sure is beautiful and inteligent magnetical responce of mind or a basic defence mechnism.But it sure is interesting when one picks up a worm and it riggles maddly as if it knows its existance is been threaten ,now would one claim that the worm has no brain ,yet a thought provoked action is taking place ,from where and what is driving this processed reaction.Real nice and magical responce of all creatures to survive in this beatiful planet ,we call earth.

  • levan kvinikadze

    very nice…

  • Liz Langley

    Go little (marine) glow worm! Glad people are enjoying Dr. Deheyn’s fascinating work.

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