These Sea Worms Have Toxic Bristles That Can Puncture Skin

What kind of creature is this?

A wriggling aquatic centipede? Some sort of misshapen, possessed caterpillar? Nope. This is a bearded fireworm, and you really don’t want to touch it.

Every so often, fishermen accidentally bring one of these guys up from the depths. The creatures writhe around on the deck as the anglers look on in bewilderment and horror.

Marine enthusiasts are right to be wary of this peculiar creature — their bristles can inflict a powerful sting that produces intense irritation and a painful burning sensation. Not only that, the neurotoxin injected during such a sting can make you uncomfortably nauseous and dizzy.

Image: Wikimedia CC

There is essentially no safe place to touch these worms, either; every one of their 60 to 150 body segments contains a cluster of stinging bristles.

While it looks like a creature straight out of your nightmares, these marine worms are actually commonly found in tropical waters of the Atlantic and Mediterranean. You can find them inhabiting marine corals, rocks, mud, sand, or even driftwood, where they feed on coral polyps and dead or decaying matter. They seem to be quite hardy, and can survive anywhere from the water’s surface to as deep as 130 feet below the waves.

These odd “bristleworms” as they’re called, are generally around 6 inches in length but can grow to almost a foot.

If you happen to see one of these unusual worms while snorkeling or boating, it would be wise not to touch it with your bare hands.

Check out this footage of a giant bristleworm in action: