It’s Palolo time in the territory
Those wanting to savor the “slimy, yet satisfying” Samoan delicacy known as palolo were out and about last night, armed with buckets, flashlights and cheesecloths (mosquito netting) to scoop up the sea worms which are only known to appear in October or November for a few short hours - if that.
As of press time yesterday, it was not known whether there was a big palolo rising last night.
According to the Natural History Guide to American Samoa, palolo is the edible part of a polychaete worm (Eunice viridis) that lives in shallow coral reefs in the south central Pacific area.
In a Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources article by David Iotano found on the National Park Service website <www.nps.gov/npsa> Iotano says everyone has their own methods of predicting when the best palolo swarm will occur, and the rise of the palolo is usually set off by natural clues that include the strong smell from the reef, the flowering of the moso’oi tree, the closing of the palulu flower (a morning glory), changes in the weather, toxins occurring in reef fish, and a brown foamy scum (from coral spawn) on the ocean.
While some palolo hunters stay close to shore during their quest, those who own small boats usually sail out to the deeper part of the ocean hoping to score big. In past years, palolo has been sold on the street side for $10-$25 depending on the serving size.
And people are willing to pay whatever price to enjoy the worms which are either eaten raw on site, or taken home and cooked with butter, or sauteed in oil with onions. Some people even report scrambling the palolo with eggs to add texture and flavor, while others prefer to eat it on toast or cooked into a loaf with coconut milk.
So what does palolo taste like? The opinions are mixed. Some say it tastes like a mix of seaweed and caviar, while other descriptions included: “salty,” “fishy,” and “just plain delicious.”
It is safe to say, it is an acquired taste.
According to the National Geographic website, the first biologists to describe the Samoan palolo scientifically, in the 19th century, made an interesting observation: The swarming worm has no head.
“What biologists eventually discovered is that the swarming, writhing surface mass is not the actual worm itself, but rather its sperm and egg packets,” according to the website.
The palolo worm makes its home “in the shallow reef, where it uses its sizable jaws to dig itself a burrow in the limestone substrate. Most of the year it lives quietly, feeding on algae and microorganisms, small crustaceans, and even its own young.”
“As the time approaches for it to spawn — which in Samoa usually happens in October or early November — the palolo worm undergoes an extraordinary transformation. The organs in its posterior end, except those involved in reproduction, begin to degenerate. Eventually these rear segments become little more than sacks engorged with either sperm or eggs. At exactly the right moment, the rear end starts some very heavy muscle contractions and eventually breaks off."
“The liberated segments then start spiraling toward the surface. They float for up to an hour until the outer casings split open, spilling out their contents. Sperm fertilizes the floating eggs in a vast reproductive frenzy that happens just once a year and lasts only for a few hours… Once the first worm goes, the presence of spawn in the water sets off all the others.”
If the palolo swarm was weak last night, some believe it will be stronger tonight.
Otherwise, they will try again next month. In some cases, locals have been known to contact families and friends in the Manu’a Island group or independent Samoa to have containers of palolo sent here.
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