Collecting-Gathering Biophysics of the BlackwormL. variegatus Journal Article uri icon



  • AbstractMany organisms exhibit collecting and gathering behaviors as a foraging and survival method. Certain benthic macroinvertebrates are classified as collector-gatherers due to their collection of particulate matter as a food source, such as the aquatic oligochaeteLumbriculus variegatus(California blackworms). Blackworms demonstrate the ability to ingest organic and inorganic materials, including microplastics, but previous work has only qualitatively described their possible collecting behaviors for such materials. The mechanism through which blackworms consolidate discrete particles into a larger clumps remains unexplored quantitatively. By analyzing a group of blackworms in a large arena with an aqueous algae solution, we discover that their relative collecting efficiency is proportional to population size. Examining individual blackworms under a microscope reveals that both algae and microplastics physically adhere to the worm’s body due to external mucus secretions, which cause the materials to clump around the worm. We observe that this clumping reduces the worm’s exploration of its environment, potentially due to thigmotaxis. To validate the observed biophysical mechanisms, we create an active polymer model of a worm moving in a field of particulate debris with a short-range attractive force on its body to simulate its adhesive nature. We find that the attractive force increases gathering efficiency. This study offers insights into the mechanisms of collecting-gathering behavior, informing the design of robotic systems, as well as advancing our understanding the ecological impacts of microplastics on benthic invertebrates.

publication date

  • April 29, 2023

has restriction

  • green

Date in CU Experts

  • May 10, 2023 5:23 AM

Full Author List

  • Tuazon H; Nguyen C; Kaufman E; Tiwari I; Bermudez J; Chudasama D; Peleg O; Bhamla MS

author count

  • 8

Other Profiles