This unusual, 8-inch long marine worm looks like something out of a nightmare — but research suggests it could be crucial to the health of our ecosystems.
The giant polynoid worm Eulagisca gigantea is a species of scale worm found in the Southern Ocean near Antarctica. Its two most stand-out characteristics include a golden-bristled abdomen and a disturbing toothy grin on what appears to be its head.
These marine worms are called bristle worms or polychaetes, which translates to “many small hairs” in Latin. They come in a number of shapes and sizes, including round, candy-sized worms to worms that measure more than two meters in length — and they’re found in just about every color and in many different habitats, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.
Eulagisca gigantea uses its bristles as a form of transportation along the ocean floor or perhaps as a means for defense. Although discovered in 1939, not much is known about the biology or diet of these creatures — but the size of its jaws suggests it is a predator that feeds on other animals. Its sharp teeth also indicate it could be a scavenger.
If its appearance wasn’t weird enough, get this: that body part resembling a head is actually a retractable throat that extends outwards about two inches when the worm feeds.
While 8,000 different species of marine worms have been discovered thus far, it is surmised there might be twice as many yet to be uncovered, as suggested in a study by the Royal Society Open Science.
These strange-looking creatures could lead to a deeper understanding of the marine life persisting in our ocean’s hidden depths.