How does the Palolo worm taste

health : The wedding of the Palolo worm

Savai’i, Samoa, three in the morning. Muffled wake-up calls and the rustling of the bast mats can be heard outside from the stilt huts on the beach. An unusual time to get up. But today everyone who can walk is on their feet. As a family, the inhabitants of Manese and the neighboring villages make their way to a lagoon. In all likelihood, the oceanic presents with "Palolo", the Samoan caviar, will take place there. A special kind of natural spectacle that hardly anyone can miss.

Palolo is a marine annelid worm about 60 centimeters long, related to our earthworm, which hides in the coral reef all year round. Only in October or November, when spring begins in the southern hemisphere, does it rise to the sea surface at night to reproduce. The event only lasts two to three hours and can never be precisely predicted. In Samoa it is celebrated like Christmas with us: with a feast with the family.

Several hundred islanders flock together, like ghosts they scurry through the blackness of the night. In their sleepiness they hardly exchange a word with each other, they make a pilgrimage in silent procession to the lagoon and there straight into the sea - fully clothed and sinking into the water up to their chests. The sweeping swell makes it difficult for them to keep their balance with the net and basket in their hands, even while standing. It is even more difficult to go around 500 meters against the waves to the edge of the reef, where the worms first appear. The gourmets make their way swaying.

Under the sparkling starry sky and in the light of the flashlights, it is teeming with spaghetti-thin, shimmering green and brown bodies. The females are green, the males brown. With corkscrew-like movements they wriggle in the water and tickle their legs. The lagoon has turned into a glass noodle soup.

With their nets, the Samoans can draw on unlimited resources. And hardly anyone can resist the temptation to nibble on the “caviar of the seas” and to eat it raw right away. They taste like fish eggs - and luckily they don't fidget in your mouth because they burst the first time you touch them. The remaining worms are either fried in butter and served on toast or baked in a banana leaf.

Western researchers have long been fascinated by the Palolo phenomenon. The first report by a European about the Samoan Palolo comes from a British missionary. He sent a shipment of green worms to London in 1847 and wrote:

“The natives love them immensely, calculate their appearance with great precision, and await them with great interest. The worms are caught in small, beautifully woven baskets, wrapped in leaves on the beach and baked. Large quantities are eaten unprepared ... The desire to eat the Palolo is so great in all sections of the population that, as soon as the worm fishermen have come ashore, messengers are sent in all directions with large quantities to the island regions, where the worms cannot gives."

The South Sea worm, which also occurs in Fiji, combines three biological rhythms in an almost ideal-typical way: the daily, monthly and annual rhythms. Palolo shows up only once a year, during a certain phase of the moon, at a certain time of the night. It was only in the second half of the 20th century that it was discovered that the sudden swarming of the myriads of worms is probably not triggered directly by the moon, but by the tidal rhythm, which in turn is controlled by the moon and the sun. The perfect timing ensures the reproduction and survival of a species that feeds humans and fish alike. Even more bizarre is that not the whole Palolo rises from the reef, but only its abdomen, which is filled with eggs or sperm. The head and front part remain in the reef and form a new rear end over time.

There are records of the swarming of the South Sea worm off Samoa that go back to 1843. From this data, the Hamburg hydrologist Hubert Caspers derived the empirical “Palolo rules” in 1961, according to which the occurrence of the worm can be predicted with some probability. The first of six rules alone conveys the complexity of the event:

“The swarming doesn't occur until October 8th. If the third lunar quarter falls on October 7th or earlier, the Palolo will only swarm on the next following third quarter, i.e. on November 6th or in the days before. "

The “third quarter of the moon” means the time around seven days after the full moon. This phase moves forward ten to eleven days in the calendar every year until it jumps back to the end of the month. This is due to the time difference between the moon and the solar calendar. For example, the last lunar quarter in 1893 was October 31, the following year October 21, 1895 October 11, and 1896 October 29. On these days or shortly before the respective Palolo swarms fell.

In addition to the yearly, monthly and daily rhythm, the Palolo swarming is also subject to the “Metonic cycle”: every 19 years the constellation of sun, moon and earth is repeated with the same calendar date. And the Palolo raves on the same day as it did 19 years ago. When and where the worms will appear and if at all is part of the knowledge of the "Matai", the chiefs of Samoa. To predict the appearance of the Palolo, watch the moon, the plants and the tides. As soon as the Mosooi tree opens its yellow, sweet-smelling flowers, the night of the nights is not far away.

At around six o'clock morning dawns, the sky turns pinkish-violet. The Palolo collectors go ashore because the worms disappear in daylight: "melt", as the locals call it. After millions of palolos have ascended during the night, they dissolve into nothingness within three hours.

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