Omicron is a 12,260-cubic-metre-wide gash in a forest near Prescott, Ontario. It’s a large calcareous sea spongeworm that looks like a swimming octopus, despite measuring only six inches across.
The United States is especially prone to gashworms. Earlier this month, scientists studying California’s Oroville Dam discovered an 18-foot-long Gashworm fangula from a previous trip.
Other research centres have been established in Canada. The National Centre for Biological Sciences at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, sits outside Ottawa and lets visitors walk around an exciting lab. And the Natural History Museum of Ontario in Toronto has an underwater display.
Queen’s senior lecturer Geoff Pearce describes Gashworm Cova puguidis as “very interesting” because it can maintain its species-specific pattern of colour for hundreds of years. “So that’s pretty awesome,” he says.
Pearce has spent the last 15 years studying the genetic changes the worms undergo, and how they affect their population. But he says it’s rare to see the animals close to the surface, and that “the more we can get up close and smell them, the more exciting they are for us scientists”.
“When you have something that’s not just inside a lab, you get to be in direct contact with them,” he says.
Pearce also points out that the insects spread bacteria into the area they visit, putting public health at risk. “Getting out on the water and knowing what’s out there is a big part of this,” he says.