Lamellibrachia luymesi

Geographic Range

Lamellibrachia luymesi is a large sedentary worm that lives in the Atlantic Ocean, particularly in the northern portions of the Gulf of Mexico. This portion of the Gulf of Mexico basin contains several hydrocarbon cold seep vents (not to be confused with super-heated hydrothermal vents). These particular cold seep vents are driven by tectonics of a compact salt and sediment layer beneath the Gulf of Mexico basin. Lamellibrachia luymesi is most abundant along the Louisiana slope of the Gulf of Mexico basin. However, it was first discovered along the Guyana Shelf in the mid 1970s. (Cordes, 2004; Gardiner and Hourdez, 2003)


Lamellibrachia luymesi lives only at shallow-water hydrocarbon seep vents at depths of less than 1000 m. Water temperatures at this location are approximately 5 to 7 °C. Water samples from the sediments around the posterior “root” end of L. luymesi have contained hydrogen sulfide concentrations as high as 2.7 mM, while hydrogen sulfide concentrations around its plume end are barely detectable (less than 1.0 μM). (Cordes, 2004; Freytag, 2003; Gardiner and Hourdez, 2003)

  • Range depth
    1000 (high) m
    3280.84 (high) ft

Physical Description

Lamellibranchia luymesi are large, sedentary worms of the phylum Annelida that live within a secreted tube. Their plumes are deep red and their wavy or curling tubes are off-white in color. Mature seep worms have a thin, tapered body plan. They have no mouth or gut because they rely on chemosynthetic bacterial endosymbionts for nutrition. The plume of L. luymesi can reach as high as 1.5 m above the seafloor and it has a growth rate of 1 cm per year. Lamellibranchia luymesi is the more abundant species of Gulf of Mexico cold seep tubeworm communities. (Freytag, 2003)

  • Range length
    2.0 (high) m
    6.56 (high) ft


Larval tubeworms must settle on a hard substrate, usually carbonate rock, in areas of active seepage from the vents in order to ensure their growth. Unlike hydrothermal vent worms, these cold seep worms grow from both their posterior and anterior ends and inhabit the entire length of their tubes. They can extend the posterior ends of their bodies and tubes up to 0.5 m into the sediment, below their original point of attachment. Research experiments have shown that L. luymesi acquires sulfide from the environment using this extension of its posterior end, known as the “root”. When settling, the worms form bush-like aggregations of 500 to 2000 individuals that can cover areas as large as 1600 square meters. Lamellibrachia luymesi grows slowly to lengths over 2 m above the seafloor, and can live from 170 to 250 years. (Freytag, 2003)


Little information is known about the mating systems of L. luymesi. Due to the habitat of L. luymesi, it is very hard to study them. No courtship behaviors have been observed.

The colonies of L. luymesi that have been studied have been determined to consist of separate sexes, male and female.

In females, the mature oocytes can range from 75-105 μm in diameter. The female reproductive system of L. luymesi opens at the anterior end of the trunk. The gonads are located in the anterior two-thirds of the trunk. Extended through the trunk are a pair of oviducts. Terminal portions of each oviduct are enlarged as an egg storage compartment known as the ovisac. The spermatheca, where sperm is stored for fertilization, is located at the far posterior end.

After males have matured, sperm stay in large bundles attached to cytophores, within the sperm ducts. Sperm have a twisted head formed by an acrosome that is followed by a tapering helical nucleus surrounded by a long mitochondrial helix, a short centriolar region, and a long flagellum. (Hilario, et al., 2005; Marotta, et al., 2005; Southward, 1999)

Whether fertilization is internal or external in L. luymesi has been debated. However, direct sperm transfer and internal fertilization seem to be the principal means of fertilization among vestimentiferans in general. During reproduction, male L. luymesi release their sperm bundles and they travel to the oviducts of female L. luymesi. Once the bundles reach the spermatheca, they disperse. Each sperm aligns itself with a primary oocyte. The trade-off of internal fertilization followed by zygote release (rather than brooding) is that the tubeworms have a higher rate of fertilization. In addition, sperm storage is an ideal strategy for L. luymesi. Due to the habitat, periodic cues for gametogensis and spawning synchrony are limited. Dispersal is not negatively affected by this strategy. (Hilario, et al., 2005; Marotta, et al., 2005; Southward, 1999)

Embryos are apparently released with no additional investment from the parents.

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement


The deep sea tube worms of L. luymesi are one the longest-lived of all animals. Members of this species require between 170 and 250 years to grow to a length of two meters. This remarkable life span is especially noteworthy because the rate of growth is so slow compared to that of its vent relatives, which are among the fastest growing invertebrates. This also makes L. luymesi the most long-lived non-colonial marine invertebrate known. Individuals of L. luymesi do not grow at their maximal rates throughout their lives, but rather growth occurs episodically. (Bergquist, et al., 2000)


Vestimentiferans form dense aggregations of both sexes at both hydrothermal and cold seep sites with worms at all stages of life. No other social organization is apparent. There is little known information on the behavior of L. luymesi.

Communication and Perception

There is little known about the communication and perceptions methods of L. luymesi.

Food Habits

Studies have shown that L. luymesi take up sulfide from the environment by using extensions of their tubes which penetrate the sea floor sediment. They provide this sulfide to the chemoautotrophic bacterial endosymbionts belonging to the Gammaproteobacteria, which live inside the bacteriocytes (specialized cells) of the trophosome (a new organ produced by the host to house and protect its microbial partner) in L. luymesi. In return, these endosymbionts provide nutrition to L. luymesi through the products of their respiratory processes. (Cordes, 2004; Freytag, 2001; Freytag, 2003; Pflugfelder, 2006)


The file clam, Acesta bullisi, preys on the eggs of L. luymesi. Little is know about the relationship between the two species. Data strongly suggests that A. bullisi lives permanently attached around the anterior tube opening of the L. luymesi, preying on the eggs released by them. (Jarnegren, et al., 2005)

  • Known Predators
    • Acesta bullisi also known as the file clam

Ecosystem Roles

Oxygen transport proteins of deep-sea animals are sensitive to pH changes, so L. luymesi and its endosymbionts have an impact on these organisms and their ecosystem. Through their feeding and respiration processes, they stabilize carbon dioxide levels, in turn keeping pH levels stable. Hydrogen sulfide levels are also kept at a minimum by L. luymesi, which even in small amounts can be deadly to living organisms. This allows for a larger community of organisms to live in an otherwise barren habitat. This includes a variety of organisms from the phylums Brachiopoda, Mollusca, Porifera, Arthropoda, and Chordata. (Cordes, 2004; Horstman, 2003; Pflugfelder, 2006; Seibel and Walsh, 2003)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • creates habitat
Mutualist Species
  • Gammaproteobacteria

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

There are no known positive effects of L. luymesi on humans.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of L. luymesi on humans.

Conservation Status

This species is not protected by any treaty or regulation. Very little is known about that status of its populations.


Alexia Barlikas (author), Rutgers University, Asa Dewan (author), Rutgers University, Mofolusho Sodeke (author), Rutgers University, David V. Howe (editor), Rutgers University.


Atlantic Ocean

the body of water between Africa, Europe, the southern ocean (above 60 degrees south latitude), and the western hemisphere. It is the second largest ocean in the world after the Pacific Ocean.

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Referring to an animal that lives on or near the bottom of a body of water. Also an aquatic biome consisting of the ocean bottom below the pelagic and coastal zones. Bottom habitats in the very deepest oceans (below 9000 m) are sometimes referred to as the abyssal zone. see also oceanic vent.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


used loosely to describe any group of organisms living together or in close proximity to each other - for example nesting shorebirds that live in large colonies. More specifically refers to a group of organisms in which members act as specialized subunits (a continuous, modular society) - as in clonal organisms.


animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature


union of egg and spermatozoan


having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

oceanic vent

Areas of the deep sea floor where continental plates are being pushed apart. Oceanic vents are places where hot sulfur-rich water is released from the ocean floor. An aquatic biome.

saltwater or marine

mainly lives in oceans, seas, or other bodies of salt water.


remains in the same area


non-motile; permanently attached at the base.

Attached to substratum and moving little or not at all. Synapomorphy of the Anthozoa


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


mature spermatozoa are stored by females following copulation. Male sperm storage also occurs, as sperm are retained in the male epididymes (in mammals) for a period that can, in some cases, extend over several weeks or more, but here we use the term to refer only to sperm storage by females.


Bergquist, D., F. Williams, C. Fisher. 2000. Longevity record for deep-sea invertebrate. Nature, 403: 499-500.

Cordes, E. 2004. "The ecology of seep communities in the Gulf of Mexico: Biodiversity and role of Lamellibrachia luymesi" (On-line). Accessed December 02, 2010 at

Freytag, J. 2001. A paradox resolved: Sulfide acquisition by roots of seep tubeworms sustains net chemoautotrophy. PNAS, 98: 13408-13413.

Freytag, J. 2003. "Ecological physiology and biochemistry of sulfide acquisition by two hydrocarbon seep vestimentiferans, Lamellibrachia luymesi and Seepiophila jonesi" (On-line). Accessed December 02, 2010 at

Gardiner, S., S. Hourdez. 2003. On the occurrence of the vestimentiferan tube worm Lamellibrachia luymesi van de Land and Norrevang, 1975 (Annelida: Pogonophora) in hydrocarbon seep communities in the Gulf of Mexico. Biological Society of Washington, 116: 380-394. Accessed December 09, 2006 at

Hilario, A., C. Young, P. Tyler. 2005. Sperm storage, internal fertilization, and embryonic dispersal in vent and seep tubeworms (Polychaeta: Siboglinidae: Vestimentifera). The Biological Bulletin, 208: 20-28.

Horstman, M. 2003. "Ancient tubeworms engineer the deep sea" (On-line). Accessed December 02, 2010 at

Jarnegren, J., C. Tobias, S. Macko, C. Young. 2005. Egg predation fuels unique species association at deep-sea hydrocarbon seeps. Biological Bulletin, 209: 87-93.

Marotta, R., G. Melone, M. Bright, M. Ferraguti. 2005. Spermatozoa and sperm aggregates in the vestimentiferan Lamellibrachia luymesi compared with those of Riftia pachyptila (Polychaeta: Siboglinidae:Vestimentifera). The Biological Bulletin, 209: 215-226.

Pflugfelder, B. 2006. "Balance between proliferation and death - studies on the kinetics of bacteriocyte cell cycle in thiotrophic Siboglinidae symbioses" (On-line). Accessed December 11, 2006 at

Seibel, B., P. Walsh. 2003. Biological impacts of deep-sea carbondioxide injection inferred from indices of physiological performance. The Journal of Experimental Biology, 206: 641-650.

Southward, E. 1999. Development of Perviata and Vestimentifera (Pogonophora). Hydrobiologia, 402: 185-202.