So many worms

 a few of the vouchered specimens

a few of the vouchered specimens

I'm just back from my 2 weeks in Belize. It was probably the best field work experience I've ever had. We worked hard, but we had enough time to get everything done with only a very few loose ends to tie up back home. We collected nearly 1000 individuals and have barcode-bound tissue samples from over 700 of them. The idea of the trip was to begin quantifying diversity in this Caribbean ecosystem using DNA barcodes.

We chose 3 sites (mangrove roots, back reef lagoon, and seagrass) to sample every creature larger than 5mm found in one cubic foot. I thought I was prepared for what we would find given my experience with reef diversity in Indonesia. I was not prepared at all. In Indonesia we were only interested in the decapod crustaceans, but in Belize we were interested in everything. And everything included more worms than I had ever thought of before. I'll be excited to learn how many species we collected because they are quite difficult to tell apart and that's if you can tell if you have a whole worm or just part of one. There were also masses of sipunculans that formed writhing balls when they were put into a cup together. In both of my invertebrate zoology classes I never even considered that I would see a sipunculan in the wild, let alone collect hundreds of them over the course of a few days. I'm truly in awe of the diversity of the sites we sampled. 

 A ball of sipunculans 

A ball of sipunculans