An emerald green bristle worm.
The newly discovered bristle worm Eulalia feliciae belongs to the Phyllodocidae family and was found in the Mediterranean Sea. The worm is named after former master’s student in marine science Felica Ulltin.
Photo: Arne Nygren

Newly discovered bristle worm named after student


Researchers at the Department of Marine Sciences have discovered a completely new bristle worm in the family Phyllodocidae. The worm, which lives in the Mediterranean, has been named “Eulalia feliciae” after a former master’s student in marine science, Felicia Ulltin.

There is a lot of talk about species disappearing, but sometimes also new ones see the light of day. The beautiful bristle worm Eulalia feliciae is such an example. In a new scientific publication, it’s presented as a completely “own” species that differs from other very similar bristle worms in the large worm genus Eulalia.
“It’s such an honour to have one of your favourite organisms named after you! I've been called ‘Worm-Felicia’ for a while now, so maybe it was about time for a ‘Felicia worm’,” says a happy and moved Felicia Ulltin.  

Extreme bristle worm enthusiast

One of the researchers that discovered the new species is Arne Nygren, systematist and taxonomist at the Department of Marine Sciences. His specialty is bristle worms, more specifically he examines family trees and describes new species of worms in the family Phyllodocidae.

Discovering new species is a fun and important driving force for Arne Nygren in his research. He estimates that he has described and named about fifty new bristle worms over the years. This time a former student, Felicia Ulltin, inspired the species epithet ‘feliciae’.

Felicia Ulltin on a boat in Gullmar fjord.
Felicia Ulltin is a devoted worm enthusiast and did her master's thesis in marine biology at the University of Gothenburg. Here she is on a gathering expedition in Gullmarsfjorden.
Photo: Arne Nygren

“Felicia Ulltin is an extreme worm enthusiast! She has also worked together with me on several university courses and in turn enthused the students' interest in bristle worms. She is a true inspiration for future marine biology researchers,” says Arne Nygren.

Many worms look alike

Eulalia worms are what scientists call “cryptic”. By that, scientists mean that there are many species that are deceptively similar to each other: small, emerald green, and with red eyes. A bit like Chinese dragons, according to Arne Nygren.
“Eulalia worms are extremely common bristle worms, both in Scandinavian waters, in the Mediterranean, and all the way up to the Arctic. We have caught this particular worm on several occasions during expeditions in the Mediterranean, but it’s not until now that we have examined it properly,” says Arne Nygren.

Arne Nygren portrait picture.
Arne Nygren is a taxonomist and systematist at the Department of Marine Sciences. Among other things, he works on describing new species of bristle worms.

DNA analysis new and valuable tool

Traditionally, species of bristle worms and other animals are determined by examining their appearance, such as body length, head shape, number of antennae, colour, and so on. Many species that are very similar have therefore been wrongly classified as one and the same. But today, researchers have access to a new and very valuable tool: DNA analysis.

“By examining how DNA is structured, differences can be found that show that it is a matter of different species. Therefore, today we know that there are at least seven different Eulalia species in Europe, and not just one as we thought before,” says Arne Nygren.
Today, Felicia Ulltin works with species identification of bristle worms and other marine benthic animals at a consulting firm in Bergen, Norway.

What is so fascinating about bristle worms?

“That they have so many different lifestyles and protrusions! In addition, they are ecologically very significant, and make up most of both the diversity and biomass of our marine soft sediments. And I can't deny that many of them are also extremely elegant!", says Felicia Ulltin.
Text: Susanne Liljenström
Translation to English: Annika Wall

Read the scientific article

Revealing the diversity of the green Eulalia (Annelida, Phyllodocidae) species complex along the European coast, with description of three new species.

The article is published in the scientific journal Organisms Diversity & Evolution. Among the authors are Arne Nygren, and Fredrik Pleijel, both researchers at Tjärnö Marine Laboratory, Department of Marine Sciences.