Flying Fish

Can you help identify this marine invertebrate?
by Nicole Carlozo -- February 2nd, 2015

Reality: Species identification becomes problematic when your love for the environment yields computer time instead of field time.

A few nights ago, I received an “urgent” text message from my Uncle. He was writing from the intracoastal waterway in the Florida Panhandle. Embedded in his message with was the following video and question:

“What is this creature?”

Sadly, my marine invertebrate knowledge failed me. I blame too much time in front of ArcMap and too little time in the field getting my hands dirty (or on the beach soaking in the sun).

My Uncle then went on to describe the “hundreds of clear worms” that were swimming along the water’s surface. When held in his hand, they turned to a mushy jelly-like consistency. The largest was 5 to 6 inches long. Upon further inquiry, he relayed that a team of marine biologists were currently dredging up oyster shells nearby. They will soon be relocated to my backyard – the Chesapeake Bay – to support oyster restoration efforts. Whether the dredging and sudden “worm” appearance are related, we don’t know. What we do know is that someone out there must recognize these creatures.

In the past I’ve posted numerous nature blogs focused on specific terrestrial and marine species. Today I’m posting a mystery creature and asking for your help. Please let me know if you can identify this marine invertebrate!


  1. Dot Norris
    Feb 3, 2015

    My first impression was that it must be a polychaete, but it does not swim like one. In fact the critter doesn’t swim well at all. My thoughts that it may be Nemertean (ribbon worm) that was commensal on the oysters or living on the reef. They have soft bodies and would fall apart quickly.

  2. Thomas Rand
    Feb 3, 2015

    The invertebrate pictured appears to most closely resemble a polychaete, some species of which can swim weakly in the water column.

  3. Kaaren Lee
    Feb 4, 2015

    Hi Kaaren – sorry to be slow to get back to you…my first thought is it is some kind of polychaete worm (maybe a ribbon worm) that isn’t typically found swimming – and may have been stirred up by the nearby dredging activity that was described by your niece.

    Hope that helps – Dan

    Dan L. Ayres | Coastal Shellfish Manager
    Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife | Region Six
    48 Devonshire Road | Montesano, WA 98563 | USA
    Office: (360) 249-4628 (ext. 209) | Mobile: (360) 470-3557
    FAX: (360) 249-1229 | WDFW Radio Call Sign W-758

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