15 December 2008

A very long worm in any case

The world's longest animal may or may not be the nemertean worm Lineus longissimus (ribbon worms; phylum Nemertea), which may or may not have been named after Carl Linnaeus (Carl von Linné). Gittenberger & Schipper (2008), discussing these matters in their short paper, indicate that, although the maximum length of 60 m for this worm cited in the literature may not be accurate, animals reaching lengths of up to 30 m have been seen (and they are only about 10 mm in width). They also note that the question of whether or not the genus Lineus was named after Linnaeus cannot be answered with certainty. The British botanist James Sowerby, who erected the genus in 1806 on the 99th anniversary of Linnaeus's birth, did not explain the etymology of Lineus. Moreover, if the genus had been named after Linné, the correct name would have been Linneus. (What was a botanist doing describing a worm genus, anyway?)

Gittenberger, A. & C. Schipper. 2008. Long live Linnaeus, Lineus longissimus (Gunnerus, 1770) (Vermes: Nemertea: Anopla: Heteronemertea: Lineidae), the longest animal worldwide and its relatives occurring in The Netherlands. Zoologische Mededelingen, 82: 59-63. pdf


Jason R said...

Nice video of a nemertean worm off the coast of Florida here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wST01hAmbRA

Is there any advantage to being so long?


I was also wondering about the advantages of being so long. I don't know much about nemertean biology, so I looked them up in my old edition of Barnes' Invertebrate Biology. Although they are not segmented, Barnes says that "Some species, including certain members of the genus Lineus, reproduce asexually by fragmentation". If L. longissimus is one of those species, then growing long may be one of the stages in its reproduction, fragmenting into many new individuals being the final stage.

Marvin said...

When I read your post, I was wondering how a worm so long and skinny kept from breaking itself into pieces. Then I read your comment and saw that may be the whole point. Obviously, I should have been a botanist.