Alternate Title

Lunar Periodicity and Bioluminescence of Swarming Odontosyllis luminosa (Polychaeta: Syllidae) in Belize

Document Type



Few benthic polychaetes have the notoriety of the bioluminescent “glowworm”, Odontosyllis luminosa San Martin, 1990, that inhabits soft-sediment habitats of the Caribbean. A few nights after a full moon, apparently during most months of the year, a most unusual phenomenon occurs. Female glowworms leave the sediments, swim toward the water surface, and release a bioluminescent egg mass, causing a bright green glow near the water’s surface. The female’s luminescence attracts the males, which also glow briefly. The tiny worm has a bright glow, and viewing it is a favorite pasttime in the Caribbean. Over 50 years ago investigators linked the bioluminescence of Odontosyllis with the mysterious lights described by Christopher Columbus in November 1492. Reproduction of O. luminosa peaks during summer, when the water’s surface is brilliantly lit with females for 10–15 min on the first few evenings following a full moon. Spent females apparently survive to spawn again. They return to the sediments to build new tubes after spawning.

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