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The Bobbit Worm is a thing straight out of our darkest nightmares

Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Monday, August 18, 2014, 6:21 PM - We share this planet with some truly nightmarish creatures. One example is shown above - Eunice aphroditois, or the Bobbit Worm - an ocean-dwelling worm that burrows itself into the sea floor and lies in wait for prey to wander close enough. Then, it snaps forward, extending a set of pincer-like jaws to chomp down onto the hapless victim, which is then dragged down into the worm's hold to be devoured.

Fortunately the octopus proved a bit too tough for the worm in the above video, but here's a few added details, just in case the video isn't enough to secure the Bobbit Worm's position as king of the nightmare mountain.

Credit: Jenny Huang

The iridescent colours that adorn its body are quite fascinating (and very likely attract many a meal to within its reach), but a closeup of this creature (to the left) - revealing its part-crustacean, part-alien-monster nature - is quite disturbing.

It's not just about appearances either. Get close enough to a Bobbit Worm that it can sense you with its five antennae, and it will strike. The bite from that mouth - technically called a pharynx - can be pretty nasty. 

According to a blog post on Scientific American, "The pharynx can turn inside-out, like glove fingers, and has strong, sharp mandibles on the end. Sometimes its prey is cut clean in half because of the speed and strength of E. aphroditois’ attacks, and it can inflict a nasty bite if a human gets too close."

As for what happens once it has locked onto a meal with those mandibles?

"What happens next is rather unknown, especially because they have not been observed directly," said Luis F. Carrera-Parra and Sergio I. Salazar-Vallejo, ecologists from the Mexican scientific research centre El Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR), in an email interview with WIRED back in 2013. "We think that the eunicid injects some narcotizing or killing toxin in their prey animal, such that it can be safely ingested - especially if they are larger than the worm - and then digested through the gut."

One last detail that needs to be mentioned - it may seem like a tiny thing, probably not worthy of much notice by us, but concealed in the sediment behind that gnashing maw, with its powerful mandibles, is a multi-segmented, multi-legged body that just keeps going on and on - for up to 2 to 3 meters in length!

Below is a video of a 'pet' worm, that someone found in one of their home aquariums. It seems that these have been known to inadvertently 'hitch rides' into aquariums on bits of coral when they're young. It's only after discovering that some members of the aquarium population are missing that the worm is found and sometimes the entire tank has to be dismantled to root them out. Even though this particular worm seems a lot more sedate than the snapping, lightning-fast striker showed in the video and on other sites, it's still incredibly creepy to watch it emerge to feed.

As YouTube user TJ Young writes in the description of the video: "In the process of removing the Eunice worm from my tank, I had broken it up into a pile of pieces. I threw 90% of the worm out, but its little head and tiny 1/2" section of body seemed to remain steadfast in its struggle for survival. I decided to set up a small 5 gallon tank and tossed what was left of the worm into the new tank. A few weeks later I looked into the tank and was surprised to see that a good portion of the worm had already regrown, and jumping ahead to today, he is almost 2' in length and the circumference of a sharpie!"

TJ apparently named his worm 'Smaug', after the dragon of Tolkien's tale The Hobbit. "A most specially greedy, strong and wicked worm," indeed.

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