A new species of Protodrilus (Annelida, Protodrilidae), covering bone surfaces bright red, in whale-fall ecosystems in the northwest Pacific

Biol Bull. 2015 Oct;229(2):209-19. doi: 10.1086/BBLv229n2p209.


There are unique ecosystems in the ocean that are driven by chemosynthesis. Whale-fall communities are one of these reducing habitats, and many unknowns are left to be resolved to understand their uniqueness. A new species of the genus Protodrilus was discovered on the exposed bones of sperm whale carcasses found in the waters off Cape Nomamisaki in the northwest Pacific. Protodrilus puniceus sp. nov. was the most abundant annelid to be found on the 2.5-y-old carcasses; the exposed bone surfaces appeared bright red due to the coloration of the innumerable worms covering them. Closer inspection revealed that this species was found in the small pores of both the internal and external surfaces of the bones. P. puniceus shows simple morphology; it has paired palps and pygidial lobes, but no eyespots, nuchal organs, statocysts, or ciliary rings dorso-anteriorly-an exceptional finding in this group. A ventral ciliary band was conspicuous, extending over each segment of the animal. The male of the species possessed paired, separated lateral organs on segments 6-11; salivary glands were inconspicuous. From morphological, biological, and ecological characteristics, P. puniceus showed differences from the already known Protodrilus group of shallow interstitial inhabitants. P. puniceus is thought to be a unique deposit feeder, acquiring nutrients by adhering to organic substances from whale carcasses. This is the first description of this group to be found in the organically enriched whale-fall environments of the deep sea below 200 m and from Japanese waters. Information on a nuclear, 18S ribosomal RNA gene sequence is included.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bone and Bones / anatomy & histology
  • Ecosystem
  • Female
  • Male
  • Pacific Ocean
  • Phylogeny
  • Polychaeta / anatomy & histology*
  • Polychaeta / classification*
  • Polychaeta / genetics
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 18S / genetics
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Whales


  • RNA, Ribosomal, 18S