Sandworm    Nephtys sp.



The sandworm is one of several polychaete worms that you might find while digging in a sandy or sandy mud beach.  They live most of their lives under the surface hunting small crustaceans, other polychaetes and mollusks.  For more information on polychaete worms go to the Pile Worm page.


Up to 12 inches long, the sandworm uses its muscular body and paddle-like legs to “swim” through the sand to depths of 8 inches or so.  They are characterized by a reddish, shiny iridescence  body color, bushy legs and small tentacles on the head.  It’s neighbor, the larger pileworm, has larger head tentacles and a dark body color.  There are around twelve species of sandworm in the Pacific Northwest with only microscopic features distinguishing each species.


It is a member of the segmented worm group called the Annelids. Other members are the earthworms (Oligochaeta) and leeches (Hirudinea).  The sandworm belongs to a major group of Annelids called Polychaeta.  The body is made up of a series of identical segments that sprout small bristles and fleshy limbs.  The head sports several tentacles and a mouth housing a powerful, protrusible jaw with which they defend themselves and capture animal prey.


During mating season in early summer the males and females, with their fleshy limbs enlarged into paddles for swimming, swarm at the surface where their sperm and eggs are released.


They range throughout the eastern Pacific Ocean from Alaska to Peru.  Often found in the low intertidal zone, they can be found in the subtidal zone to depths of over 2000 ft.


The specimen in the photograph was captured at a night light viewing at the Boston Harbor Marina in late Fall.