A clamworm (Nereis) is a predatory marine polychaete that feeds on small marine animals, planktonic organisms, and detritus from the mud. These strange worms that closely resemble the land-based centipede or millipede actually live in the mud or fine sand of seashores along the West, East, and Gulf Coasts. According to eNature.com, the clamworm habitat consists of “sand, sandy mud, mud, clay, and various peat bottoms, among roots of eelgrass, in protected waters and in brackish estuaries; from near high-tide line to water more than 500′ (152 m) deep. It is not impossible to catch a clamworm in action as it pushes its head above the surface to feed.
Although clamworms do not live in the earth’s soil like earthworms, they are similar in several ways. For starters, clamworms burrow just like earthworms. The wavelike motions of their bodies create currents that help draw water and air through the burrows. This brings in fresh supplies of oxygen and it also caries away nitrogenous wastes and carbon dioxide.
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Clamworms are not tiny creatures. They can grow up to 36 inches long and one and three-fourths wide. Clamworms have roughly 200 segments and they have a thick head with four pairs of tentacles. They have a mouth, a lip, two pairs of eyes, and strong jaws. Clamworm colors include greenish-brown, brown, green, or blue. The body migth contain a number of other colors such as flecks of gold, white, or red.
Clamworms and earthworms have another similarity. They both have powerful mouths. Although the clamworm mouth is more pronounced, the earthworm can do quite a bit of damage with its mouth, which is located just below the “prostomium.” Let us start with the clamworm. The clamworm proboscis contains hook-like jaws. When the clamworm is ready to eat, it extends the proboscis and grasps its prey. Once the clamworm sinks into the prey, it retracts the proboscis and pulls the prey into its mouth.
The earthworm’s mouth is not very pronounced, but it is big enough and powerful enough to grab a leaf and drag it around. The earthworm also has a pharynx, esophagus, crop, gizzard and intestine. When the worm eats its food, it pulls the materials into its mouth with the help of the pharynx and its prostomium (also called acron). This creates a suction motion. This suction motion aids in helping the worm consume large amounts of food in a sort amount of time. The gizzard grinds the food.
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Earthworms and clamworms have a number of defense mechanisms when they feel threatened. Earthworms may curl up into a ball or secrete a foul tasting substance, while clamworms will actually bite. Yes, the clamworms mouth and jaws are strong enough to break human skin. Earthworms do not have this ability.
To view clamworm images, click here or visit The National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) at www.csc.noaa.gov.