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A Trippy Oregon Coast Sight: Small Filament-like Finds on Beaches

Published 10/13/2018 at 6:54 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection Staff

A Trippy Oregon Coast Sight: Small Filament-like Finds on Beaches

(Oregon Coast) – Sometimes, when the winters start to kick in, a trippy sight for visitors to the Oregon coast appears and causes plenty of head scratching. It becomes a question to many locals, who in turn often wonder themselves. (Photos courtesy Tiffany Boothe, Seaside Aquarium).

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Small, silvery filament-like objects periodically wash up along these beaches, and it turns out they are a tad alien after all. Or at least not like most lifeforms we’re familiar with.

They are the former shells of what are called cellophane worms: a marine creature that’s quite common to the Oregon coast and really rather pretty, in spite of the piles looking a tad like your computer exploded into a mass of wires.

“These casings, produced by the cellophane worm (Spichaetopterus costarum), often wash ashore in masses along the Oregon coast,” said Tiffany Boothe of Seaside Aquarium.

They’re frequently referred to as tube worm casings.

“Living just below the low tide line of sandy beaches, cellophane worms build and inhabit these seemingly plastic 'tubes,' which become encrusted with sand,” she said. “Currents and upwellings bring these tubes to the surface, eventually distributing them onto shore.”

They are tiny – about one to two centimeters long – which makes those blobs of them a little more remarkable.

Cellophane worms live just below the surface of the sand and they’re bodies are covered in a tube. Each of these critters has rings around it as well. When high surf events come, rough conditions bounce them around and the casings get knocked off the little guys. Then the objects pile up onshore. The creatures themselves disappear back beneath the surface, however.

Why do they suddenly appear? It comes down to the creatures being taken by surprise by the way sand levels can build up quickly, then they get bounced around when their new real estate suddenly turns out to be too close to a raucous surface.


CoastWatch’s Fawn Custer told Oregon Coast Beach Connection in 2016 the creatures are there all the time, it’s just that certain conditions unearth them and scatter them onshore.

“They feel like hair,” she said. “They're very pliable. You can squeeze them.”

Cellophane worms live just beyond the low tideline, where the tubes sit near or just above the surface of the sand and suck in their food, which is tiny bits of formerly living matter in the ocean. When the tubes come off, they grow another by secreting a kind of goo that eventually hardens back into another tube. Oregon Coast Lodgings for this - Where to eat - Map and Virtual Tour

ALSO IN THE SCIENCE REALM: The bizarre “glowing sand” phenomena, where and when the beaches are at their warmest, what feature was once a 2,000-foot volcano, the famed green flash at sunset – and more.

The third book in the Ultimate Oregon Coast Travel series has been released, this time looking at the deep details of Lincoln City, along with scientific oddities and seasonal tips of a distinctively different angle. By Portland author Andre’ GW Hagestedt, “Ultimate Oregon Coast Travel: Lincoln City, Neskowin, Gleneden Beach” also has the subtitle of “Every Beach Access, Odd Facts, Fun Finds,” like the other two in the series on Seaside and Cannon Beach. See the links here.

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