Individual animals can often move more safely or more efficiently as members of a group. This can be as simple as safety in numbers or as sophisticated as aerodynamic or hydrodynamic cooperation. Here, we show that individual plant-animal worms (Symsagittifera roscoffensis) can move to safety more quickly through flocculation. Flocs form in response to turbulence that might otherwise carry these beach-dwelling worms out to sea. They allow the worms to descend much more quickly to the safety of the substrate than single worms could swim. Descent speed increases with floc size such that larger flocs can catch up with smaller ones and engulf them to become even larger and faster. To our knowledge, this is the first demonstration of social flocculation in a wild, multicellular organism. It is also remarkable that such effective flocculation occurs where the components are comparatively large multicellular organisms organized as entangled ensembles.
- Animal movement
- Collective behaviour