Palolo (c) littleoceankid

Palolo Worm

  • Palolo worms are a delicacy in the South Pacific with a salty, fishy flavour of seaweed or caviar with the stringy texture of noodles
  • Palolo are able to bisect themselves. The lower half is detached during the mating season and floats to the surface to release either eggs or sperm. The remainder of the worm remains in its coral home and will regenerate a new rear within a week.
  • Other marine species spawn at the same time as Palolo so that their larvae can feed on the ‘worms’. These include land crabs, sharks and fishes.
  • The appearance of the ‘worms’ is often associated with cultural activities.
  • Palolo worms are currently listed in IUCN Red-List as a threatened species, though more data is needed to better understand this species.
  • The name is derived from Pa, a name for fishhooks and lures traditionally made from shells, and lolo, meaning fatty or oily.

Palola viridis

Palolo are found in tropical regions of Asia and the Pacific, including Vanuatu. Palolo are a type of segmented marine worm that grow up to 40 cm in length. Each segment of their bodies has paddlelike appendages with gills. The head of the worm has many sensory tentacles. Males are reddish-brown and females are bluish-green. They live in crevices and coral rubble.


Up to 40 cm in length.


During the breeding season, the worm breaks in half with the tail section carrying the eggs or sperm to the ocean surface. The tail section looks like an animal and has eyes and drifts on the waves in large, tangled masses of thousands of worms. The head section remains in the reef. Breeding occurs at least twice per year, at almost the same time annually and following a phase of the moon. There is a strong link between El Niño and the quantity of palolo. Strong El Niño tend to result in very low palolo harvests. More palolo seem to spawn in years of neutral El Niño.


Palolo are omnivores feeding on both invertebrate and algal material. They are also scavenger feeders.

  • Presence
  • Absence
  • Abundance

When to Look

  • October and November. The smell of the worms on the coast is a good indicator that the worms are ready to harvest.

Where to Look

  • Coral areas
  • Spawning events take place on the ocean’s surface

Similar Species

There are several species of Palolo worms, some in the genus Palolo and some in the genus Eunice. Palolo viridis is also known as Eunice viridis and is the more commonly seen species in the Pacific and Vanuatu and is sometimes considered to be synonymous with P. siciliensis.

Palolo is easily identified, particularly by its scoop-shaped mandibles.