New underwater worm species identified in Cayman

A new species of marine worm has been discovered on Grand Cayman’s coral reefs. 

The worm was discovered in Cayman waters by diver Cynthia Abgarian and has been named Proceraea janetae. Ms. Abgarian named the worm in honor of her aunt Janet Kaufman on her 90th birthday, whom she said had helped instill in her a sense of discovery at an early age.  

“It has always been a lifelong dream of mine to find something new that had not been identified … it took a long time but we found it and put a name to it,” Ms. Abgarian said. 

From the time she photographed it to having it finally named and identified as a new species took three years. 

The Centre for Advanced Studies of Blanes, in Girona, Spain, in collaboration with a researcher from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, participated in the study of the worm, which they determined was a new species of syllid polychaetous annelid, belonging to the subfamily Autolytinae. The scientists described the worm as a coral predator that feeds on the reefs that surround Grand Cayman.  

Ms. Abgarian shared the new marine discovery with Everett Turner and Essi Evans, her co-authors of “Cayman Has Worms” book, which features photographs and descriptions of marine worms found in Cayman waters. 

The Proceraea janetae was an accidental find. Ms. Abgarian had taken pictures of some solitary underwater coral and it was only when she had a closer look at the image on the computer that she noticed the little brown, white and yellow creature.  

“She showed it to us, but we did not know what it was. We decided to go back for a second look and found more of the worms on star corals,” Mr. Turner said. When they could not find anyone to identify the worms, they figured it must be a new species. 

They asked around, carried out a number of Internet searches to identify it, and eventually made contact with Daniel Martin at the Centre for Advanced Studies of Blanes. After getting the necessary permits from Cayman’s Department of Environment, a specimen of the worm was sent to Spain to be analyzed. 

The researchers’ findings included that the worm inhabits the substrate surrounding the coral and moves towards the colony to feed, moving away quickly once it has finished eating. 


This new species of worm discovered in Cayman has been named Proceraea janetae, in honor of a relative of the woman who found it.