Science News reviews the show-stopping submarine research that has gone behind the scenes with four species of sequined sea worms that have collectively been named “Elvis worms”
. “For a while, we thought there was just one kind of Elvis worm,” says Greg Rouse, a marine biologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif. But analysis of the creatures’ genetic makeup shows that Elvis worms comprise four species of scale worm, Rouse and colleagues report May 12 in ZooKeys.
Rouse’s team compared the genetic material of different Elvis worms with each other, and with DNA from other scale worm species. This analysis places Elvis worms in the Peinaleopolynoe genus of scale worms, which includes two other known species — one found off the coast of Spain, the other off California.
The four newly identified Elvis worm species are scattered across the Pacific, from P. elvisi and P. goffrediae in Monterey Canyon off California to P. orphanae in the Gulf of California by Mexico and P. mineoi near Costa Rica.
The researchers don’t know why Elvis worms have evolved such eye-catching scales, since the animals live in the dark, deep sea. It could just be a side effect of developing thicker scales over time, which happen to refract more light, Rouse says.