Swarms are fire worms, NOT palolo

Don’t touch them, don’t eat them — they’re toxic

It was a case of mistaken identity for some locals who thought a swarm of palolo had been found in Faganeanea and Laulii last week.

Turns out, the swarms were indeed worms, but not the slimy delicacy that many were hoping for.

Last Tuesday, January 3, villagers in Faganeanea reported seeing swarms of worms on the village reef. Two nights later, residents in Laulii claimed to have seen similar swarms.

Employees of the Fisheries Division of the Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources (DMWR) obtained samples from the Faganeanea reef and determined that the worms were not palolo.

“The samples showed the worms and apparently their sex parts, which were presumed to be released during spawning episodes this week,” according to a statement from DMWR. “This is different from palolo swarms, which is mostly composed of sex parts of the worms.”

DMWR staff report that the worms that appeared last week were also smaller, and had bristles on its sides. They believe the worms may be fire worms that spawned from the reefs in the waters at the two aforementioned sites.

Those who saw the swarms in Laulii told Samoa News that the worms were spotted during the early evening hours, and their appearance caused a little excitement as, for a brief moment, it was thought that a palolo swarm had arrived unexpectedly.

According to DMWR, October to April has been previously recorded as spawning season for both fish and invertebrates in American Samoa. “A previous study by the department showed spawning of corals and sea cucumber, in a study conducted in Fagaalu.”

So the marine worm swarming observed last week, based on information released by DMWR, is consistent with the previous study’s findings. However, “this is the first time a swarming of worms and their sex parts was observed for another species here in the Territory.”

DMWR will be contacting off-island experts to identify — and confirm — the species of the coral reef worm.

For now, the DMWR cautions the public to stay out of the water if they come across these worms.

Furthermore, residents are advised not to eat or attempt to collect them.

Fire worms contain toxins in their bristles, which attach to human skin and may cause irritation and burning. In very rare cases, a severe allergic reaction may interfere with cardiac and respiratory functions and immediate medical treatment at the LBJ Hospital should be sought.

Those who come in contact with the fire worms can use rubbing alcohol/isopropyl alcohol or vinegar, as these may help alleviate the painful burning sensation. Application of ice or warm water may also ease the pain.

Future sightings of the fire worms should be reported to the Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources at 633-4456.

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