When is Palolo Rising in Samoa and How to Experience the Phenomenon
An annual phenomenon and cultural event that you can almost set your alarm by, the rising of the palolo reef worm is an exciting time to be in Samoa. Just before dawn during the waning October or November moon (sometimes both), locals flock to the reefs with their nets, buckets and lanterns in paopao (canoes) or on foot to haul in the tails of these unique and incredibly tasty reef worms. All the while, the heads of the palolo remain in the crevices of the coral reef non-the-wiser…
Find out about the fascinating animal of the palolo worm and how to experience the palolo season in Samoa in this guide.
Frequently Asked Questions About Palolo in Samoa
Before we jump into our complete guide to the palolo season in Samoa, you might just find the answer to your question about palolo right here.
Why is Palolo So Special?
What makes the palolo so special is its unique reproductive behaviour. During the same time of year (October and/or November) and at the final quarter of the moon, the palolo worm breaks in half; the tail section swims to the surface to release eggs and sperm. Meanwhile, the front section of the worm remains below ready to grow another tail for the next breeding season.
What is Palolo in Samoan?
“Palolo” is the Samoan word for the polychaete worm that goes by the scientific names of eunice viridis or palola viridis. In other countries, palolo might be known as balolo, wawo or nyale.
Where is Palolo From?
Palolo can be found in shallow coral reefs across the central and south Pacific in countries such as Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, the Cook Islands, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.
What Does Palolo Taste Like?
Palolo has a strong salty seafood taste, reminiscent of oysters, mussels, seaweed and caviar all condensed into a stringy noodle-like form.
Are Palolo Worms Endangered?
Palolo worms are classed as “Data Deficient” by the IUCN. In other words, there is not enough data to know whether palolo are endangered or a threatened species.
How Big is a Palolo Worm?
Adult palolo worms tend to reach a length of 30-40 cm (12-16 “).
What are the Benefits of Palolo Worm?
Palolo worms have the nutritional benefit of being a protein food high in calcium, phosphorus, vitamin A and riboflavin.
What are Palolo Worms?
Palolo worms, their scientific name palola viridis or eunice viridis, are a species of Polychaeta worm from the Eunicida order. They inhabit the crevices and cavities of shallow coral reefs in the central and south Pacific in countries like Fiji, Tonga, the Cook Islands, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and, of course, Samoa.
Palolo Worm Lifecycle
Adult palolo are about 30 to 40 cm (12 to 16 “) long and are either reddish brown if male or bluish green if female. Their bodies have ringlike segments equipped with appendages bearing gills. They have sensory tentacles on their head and a mouth that essentially thrusts from inside their neck that is armed with teeth.
As the breeding season approaches, the back portions of the palolo go through a radical change. While the muscles and many organs degenerate, the reproductive organs increase in size ready to be carried up by limbs that have grown more paddlelike.
Once breeding season arrives, which is during the early morning for two days during the last quarter of the October moon and usually again (and in greater numbers) during the final quarter of the November moon, the palolo backs partway from its burrow and the “tail” section of the worm breaks free and swims to the surface to release sperm or eggs.
Fertilised eggs develop into trochophore larvae, which metamorph into a lengthened body during the juvenile stage, and later develop into adults.
Back at the head end of the palolo worm, it begins to regenerate a new tail end. The lifespan of a palolo worm is unknown but is thought to be about four to eight years.
How Do Samoans Celebrate the Palolo Season
The rising of the tails of the palolo worm not only attracts predatory fish, but the people of Samoa celebrate the occasion as a time to catch a rare seafood delicacy.
Equipped with homemade nets, buckets and torches/lanterns, some on foot while others are in paopao (outrigger canoes), many Samoans flock to the reefs just before dawn on the waning moon of October and November. Exposure of the palolo tail to the sunlight destroys the tail, so it’s important to scoop up the worm before sunrise!
On the days following the palolo rising, Samoans will throw feasts to celebrate their bounty and proudly sell their catch at the local markets and roadside stalls.
Each year, there is also a Palolo Festival held at a different village and venue. In the past, Va-i-Moana Seaside Lodge has been a proud host of this event, so keep an eye on this accommodation or on the Samoa Tourism events page for where the next Palolo Festival is taking place.
Where to Try Palolo in Samoa
Palolo is usually only available to try up to a few weeks after the Palolo Rising event (as a reminder, that’s the last quarter of the October and/or November moon). You’ll find palolo being sold either in its raw or cooked form at the local markets – see 8 Best Markets in Samoa, or on the specials boards of restaurants if you’re lucky!
Alternatively, if you attend the Palolo Festival or join the locals in gathering palolo during the rise, chances are you’ll meet a friendly Samoan who will be happy to prepare some to try.
How is Palolo Eaten?
Palolo can be eaten raw or, more commonly, it is fried with butter, onion and/or eggs. In either form, it is usually spread on toast.
More About the Palolo Season in Samoa
That’s it for our guide to the fascinating palolo season in Samoa. For more intriguing events to attend, take a look at these:
- 5 Biggest Festivals in Samoa
- The Top Events & Festivals in Samoa
- A Traveller’s Guide to the Samoan Culture
Finally, for more experiences on your holiday, check out the 101 Best Things to Do in Samoa: The Ultimate List.