Luminescent giant Worms

The information below was taken from a Department of Conservation website in 2004 I think it was.
The photo I took here was also of the same vintage. A neighbour brought it to me after finding it above Puriri Bay, near Tryphena, while excavating clay with a mechanical digger. It was slightly wounded and so died after a few hours. It relaxed to over a metre long.- Don Armitage 2008.
Giant Worm

Spenceriella gigantea, a two-metre long thumb-thick worm, was discovered on Little Barrier Island in 1905. It has also been located on Kawau Island, the Hen and Chickens Islands and near Leigh and Tapuni. Difficult to locate and easily damaged by handling, it is hard to successfully capture a live specimen.


                                                                                                                          Click image to enlarge






Taxonomic Name:

Octochaetus multiporus (Beddard, 1885)

Common Names:

Milkworm, Maori worm (Foord 1990)                                                                                                           Photo Don Armitage Copyright 2004.


Acanthodrilus multiporus (Springett et al. 1998)

Description: A large unpigmented, pale pink earthworm, with a darker pink clitellum

(the ‘saddle-like’ portion on the worm) (Springett et al. 1998), often mottled white or

grey. A narrow streak of purple runs along the mid-line. The body is 180 - 300 mm long,

8 - 10 mm in diameter (Lee 1959a), and comprises 200 segments (Lee 1959b). (Foord

(1990) puts the body length at 1400 mm long, but states that this may relate to

Spenceriella gigantea, and not Octochaetus multiporus). This species is bioluminescent,

expelling a thick, slimy fluid giving a bright orange-yellow light (Springett et al. 1998).

Type Locality: Canterbury Plains (Lee 1959b).

Specimen Holdings: NHML.

Distribution: Very widely distributed in the southern end of the North Island districts,

east of the main divide, Nelson, Stewart Island and a number of small off-shore islands

(Lee 1959a). It has been found recently at AgResearch’s Hill Country Research station,

Ballantrae (Springett et al. 1998).

Habitat: Usually found in the subsoil, sometimes in topsoil, under forest, scrub, tussock

grassland and pasture (Lee 1959a). Lee (1959b) described it as being numerous in

yellow-grey, yellow-brown, and brown-grey earth soils. Most numerous in soils of low

to moderate fertility, and those that slope away from the sun. High fertility soils had a

similar density to adjacent areas of native forest, indicating that exotic pasture

environments can favour this worm in some circumstances. A deeper burrowing species

(Springett et al. 1998), which creates a network of burrows that do not open to the

surface. The burrows have a diameter of about 10 mm. Several chambers 15 - 20 mm

wide are usually within the burrow network, and worms may be found curled up in

these (Springett & Gray 1998).

Sign of Presence: Dull white cocoons, which are very smooth and flaccid. They vary

considerably in colour passing through several shades of yellow and brown, and finally

to dark red as they mature (Smith 1893).

Threats: Not known. Competition with lumbricid earthworms or landuse change

through pasture production could be affecting populations (Springett et al. 1998).

Work Undertaken to Date: No work has been done on the distribution of this species

since Lee (1959a,b).

Priority Research, Survey, and Monitoring: 1) Survey to obtain an estimate of

distribution and abundance, and determine whether this species is of conservation



Report of giant worms during excavations on the top of Mount Ruahine when the marine radio mast was erected.- DJA Sept, 2008.