Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Researcher Discovers New Species of Marine Worm Important to Ecosystem

February 19, 2014


CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – A researcher at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi has discovered a new species of marine worms that is an important part of the marine ecosystem. The species is considered to be an important source of food to sport fish, such as flounder.

Michael Reuscher, who received his Ph.D. in Marine Biology in December 2013 at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, recently discovered the new species of marine worm found in the shallow waters of the northern Chinese coast.

“We have only discovered a small fraction of existing marine species,” said Reuscher, who works for the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies (HRI). “If we can get a comprehensive list of all the species out there, then we can better address meaningful questions on how they affect our ecosystems.”

Marine worms, also known as polychaetes, are an important part of the ecosystem because they feed many species of sport fish and crabs. Shallow water species can grow up to five inches in length and congregate in large numbers. Reuscher says that we know very little about most marine species and how they interact with each other and the ecosystem they live in.

“I am fascinated by the appearance and biology of these little, alien creatures,” said Reuscher. “They come in so many shapes, sizes, and colors.”

Reuscher and his colleague, Dr. Jin Zhou from the East China Sea Fisheries Research Institute in Shanghai, have published the discovery in the latest issue of the “Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington.”

While Reuscher was a Graduate Research Assistant at the HRI, he described nearly 20 new species of marine worms from Japan, Alaska, New Zealand, the South Pacific, and the Red Sea.

“I feel very honored to discover and describe new species,” said Reuscher. “Being the first person to see animals of a formerly unknown species is very exciting.”     

A recipient of the Flavius and Kathy Killebrew Dean’s Annual Scholarship Fund, Reuscher says that the University has helped greatly with his research. He has traveled far and wide in search of unknown marine worm species. He has visited the Zoological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg, Russia; the zoological museums in Hamburg, Germany, and Vienna, Austria; and the National Museum of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C.; to name a few.