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Social flocculation in plant–animal worms

Worley, Alan; Sendova-Franks, Ana B.; Franks, Nigel R.


Alan Worley

Ana B. Sendova-Franks

Nigel R. Franks


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.


Worley, A., Sendova-Franks, A. B., & Franks, N. R. (2019). Social flocculation in plant–animal worms. Royal Society Open Science, 6(3), Article 181626.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Feb 25, 2019
Online Publication Date Mar 20, 2019
Publication Date Mar 1, 2019
Deposit Date Mar 21, 2019
Publicly Available Date Mar 21, 2019
Journal Royal Society Open Science
Electronic ISSN 2054-5703
Publisher Royal Society, The
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 6
Issue 3
Article Number 181626
Keywords collective behaviour, animal movement, flocculation
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Additional Information Additional Information : The two uploaded files are the paper and the document supplementary material. The related URL is to a video supplementary material.


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