Rediscovery of Spio Aequalis after Missing for Over 50 Years

While wandering around in an area of Otaipango where there is alot of wave action and rocks rising from the floor to create isalnds I came across a "sand tube" that was in a rock pool on the shore side, nestled close to the rock face in the low low intertidal zone I have seen a few of these before but none as large as this tube. Also these tubes were single and not part of a cluster as I usually see them.

Watching as the water ran over it and receeded, I noticed that there seemed to be something waving around in the middle of the tubes, so naturally I had to get photos even though I did not have a clue what this was. Judging the waves and getting the seaweed aside I managed to get a few photos and put them up. First Observation

The ID came back tentatively as spio aequalis with the following comments
I think it might be a Spio aequalis (NZ native). The thick tube chimney, what can be seen of the palps (tentacles) banding, and the very low tide habitat matches, but I don't know of any records from northern NZ.

Spionids are usually quite small but Spio aequalis are big and beautiful, not common, and quite a mystery species for me until I found out where they liked to live - in sand but always with rock nearby, not fully exposed to surf. Sure would be good to confirm that id.

A few days later while in the same area I saw a creatue and even though not knowing what it was, photographed it and put it up. This was the comfirmation that what I had found before was the Spio aequalis. Second Observation

I then googled spio aequalis and found the page Glimpses of the giant spionid Spio aequalis written by Geoff Read who is also the person who did the ID for my obs. Here are some of the points he makes on his page.

  • The beachworm Spio aequalis is a large polychaete unique to New Zealand. However, it has not been seen for fifty years.
  • Spio aequalis Ehlers, 1904 remains an enigmatic polychaete known only from the original discovery by Schauinsland somewhere on the Chatham Islands coast.
  • Two subsequent unpublished South Island sightings have come to light recently
  • The length of time expired since the last observation fits one definition of an extinct animal, and it has yet to be refound, despite resampling attempts at all three of its now known locations.
  • Waitangi (Chatham Island), Moeraki (North of Dunedin), and Squally Bay (Banks Peninsula) are the known localities of Spio aequalis.

Sightings Before My Finds
Hugo Schauinsland of Bremen visited the Chatham Islands during January-February 1897
William Benham collected polychaetes in November 1899 at Moeraki north of Dunedin. Unpublished record.
George Knox did some collecting on Banks Peninsula in 1949 Unpublished record

So we can see that there was the original sighting in 1897, followed in one in 1899 and the last known one in 1949, with both the later two only coming to light recently, but are unpublished.

In 2008 THE polychaete expert of NZ, @readgb rediscovered these in Banks Penninsula - see comments below :)

In 2016 in the real far north at the magical Otaipango - Henderson Bay they have been found. In a different Island and nearly as far away as you can get from the other three sightings. This is why sites like NatureWatch are so valuble as it allows ordinary people the opportunity to photograph and post creatures and interesting things in the hope of getting an ID. And having scientists a part of this community and helping with ID's is also valuble because scientists looking for the spio aequalis would basically only look where there are known sightings and would not think to look here.

Yet because of NW the spio aequalis has been photographed, confirmed, rediscovered and by that more has been added to the knowledge base for this creature that was once lost, but now found again!

Posted by tangatawhenua tangatawhenua, July 24, 2016 00:03

Observations

Photos / Sounds

Observer

tangatawhenua

Date

June 24, 2016 05:32 PM NZST

Description

Single "tubes" found in rock pools on the low low intertidal zone. Not living in groups. This is the best series of photos I could get and the creature can be seen coming out as the tide washed in and out. The sand tube is approx 10mm thick and about 15mm high.

Would seeing this help to ID these @wmblom?

Photos / Sounds

Observer

tangatawhenua

Date

July 4, 2016 02:19 PM NZST

Description

Sharing the same pool as the wheke - it took a while for the wheke to understand that we were not going to compete for this little creature.

Comments

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Magnificent find!!! Keep up the exploring! :)

Posted by sambiology about 3 years ago (Flag)
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Thnak you for that @sambiology :) Finding something like this highlights why it is a good idea to photograph strange things (like sand chimneys) because even though I didn't know what it was, someone else sure did even though they have never seen it live!

Posted by tangatawhenua about 3 years ago (Flag)
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Isn't it a beautiful thing?!? This community of naturalists (amateur and professional) on iNat is tremendously powerful -- our knowledge of global biodiversity is increasing by each and every observation. :)

Bringing this exciting discovery to a few folks' attention as well:
@kueda @loarie @tiwane @alexshepard @joelle @greglasley @gcwarbler

Posted by sambiology about 3 years ago (Flag)
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Thank you for that!

Also @readgb here is a korero that I have done for this - if you want to add anything or correct anything that I have wrong, please feel free to do so seeing as you are the expert for these and did the ID :)

Posted by tangatawhenua about 3 years ago (Flag)
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very cool! Thanks for sharing!

Posted by loarie about 3 years ago (Flag)
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Thank you :)

Posted by tangatawhenua about 3 years ago (Flag)
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Hi @tangatawhenua, Yes I did the id. The only person in NZ (or anywhere) who could have done so from what to anyone else was just a photo of a tube top and part view of a palp. I have seen these live a number of times over the years since 1999 when my old (very old) web page that you quote went up. I rediscovered them alive on Banks Peninsula back in 2008 (only took me another 9 years, and only 58 years after Knox's previous find), and I've seen them in other places since. But it is very exciting to find the species so far North in NZ. They are rare, and there's little about of the habitat they prefer, but they must be in other places, overlooked, and it would be good to see other people report possible observations (but not harm them). Lovely animals (well I think so) and we don't know much about them still.

Posted by readgb about 3 years ago (Flag)
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Thank you so much for your feedback @readgb and it is good to see that not nly was I lucky enough to photograph them but THE ONLY expert (you) to be able to identify them is a member of Nature Watch also!

Really glad that you have also seen them and I have updated the korero to reflect your find also :)

From where I have found them I would say that they like to live in a sandy area sheltered from hard wave action or ocean currents (as all have been found in rock pools) with a reef protecting that area from the open ocean at the low / shallow sub tidal mark. This area where they were found is more sand than rock though. Well, that's my observations anyway! *LOL*

Posted by tangatawhenua about 3 years ago (Flag)

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