Little Tank of Horrors – The Bobbit Worm

By | March 11, 2016

The other day I was informed of the existence of a creature almost horrifying enough to have its own Broadway musical turned Hollywood movie, but not quite (Little Shop of Horrors reference there). It wouldn’t star Rick Moranis, but maybe Matt LeBlanc, Joey from Friends, since he’s probably still struggling to find good work and may bite on a second-rate horror musical. Said creature reminds me of the beasts from Tremors, but certainly not on the same seismic scale. The movie definitely couldn’t attract Kevin Bacon, though our likely star Matt LeBlanc was in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle in 2003 with Robert Patrick who was in Jayne Mansfield’s Car in 2012 with Kevin Bacon (just a quick two-degree link).

In real life, though, this thing can boast quite a rap sheet despite being less than a household name (until this blog, that is!). It can hitchhike its way into people’s aquariums (salt water only) when young, grow upwards of ten feet in length, and systematically destroy all the colorful creatures like an assassin. It can burrow its way into rocks, wait for the quiet of night, and attack fish with such a vicious thrust that it sometimes cuts them in half. It has left many aquarium owners exhausted and disgusted in attempts to kill or remove it from the once pleasant habitat they wind up destroying. And due to myths of unspeakable acts, the creature inherited a name from the woman who haunts every man’s sex nightmares, the Sultan of Snip, the Colossus of Castration, the one, the only, Lorena Bobbitt. Yes, I give you, the Bobbit worm.

The worm evidently was first discovered and named in the wake of Lorena Bobbitt’s trial back in the early ’90’s, but the reason for the name is still disputed. There was an original tale that the female Bobbit worm used her sharp weaponry to cut off the male worm’s “member” and feed it to the young, but later research discovered that the worms have no “members” to be snipped. As various scientific references will now tell you, they are broadcast breeders meaning males and females spew sperm and eggs out into the water for fertilization sort of like flowers do with pollination (sorry for being anticlimactic). Some Bobbit experts believe the name may simply have come from the fact that given the way they hunt, they look like they would be capable of copycatting Lorena’s job if given the opportunity.

Okay, so let’s get deeper into the science stuff. Bobbit worms (Eunice aphroditois) are members of the Polychaete class of worms, which are often called “bristle worms” due to the pair of legs on each segment, and they are of the phylum Annelida. After seeing examples of all these bristle worms, I would describe them all as looking like centipedes of the sea, except centipedes are actually members of the Chilopoda class, so while visually helpful, my comparison is evidently scientifically inaccurate. Polychaete worms are primarily marine dwellers, so perhaps that’s the difference between them and the centipedes.

They burrow themselves into sand or rock, attracting prey with a manipulative rainbow iridescence and dancing feelers that stick out of their razor-sharp jaws. And they can make fast work of burrowing into tiny spaces. One six-foot specimen was caught for study and placed into a bucket with a three-inch rock; when they checked on it the following morning it had already burrowed its entire body into the rock! When prey gets close enough for a strike, they launch themselves after it like a torpedo, slicing it in half or pulling it underground into their lair to feed as they inject it with necrotoxin leaving it paralyzed. It’s also been reported that the toxin can leave permanent numbness in human tissues for those who have had a run-in with the thing, though I don’t have hard evidence to prove that.

Rather than telling you more about what they look like and how they hunt and why they are hell on earth for some animals and aquarium owners, I’ll just let you watch this video.

For the aquarium owners unfortunate enough to wind up with one in their system, they are notoriously hard to kill. In fact, here’s a link to a forum chronicling one man’s fight against a Bobbit. It’s quite the tale if you’re interested to read. The Bobbit earned its keep through 500 million years of evolution and existence, surviving five global mass extinction events including one that wiped out 96% of all marine species on earth! With that kind of track record, it’s understandable why they can be such a struggle to eradicate once they’ve infiltrated a tank. They can take swallow super glue, poison pills, and even digest fishing hooks and keep right on being just as big of an ass to everyone!

Imagine the disappointment and frustration of a great battle with a Bobbit. You notice things in your tank just start going missing. Nothing happens during the day (Bobbits are nocturnal), so you decide to stay up till 2:00 AM to find the culprit. You see an alien-like thing emerge out of a tunnel in your rock that it made by literally chewing through it. You feed it every poison you can think of, but it keeps coming back stronger. You eventually try hooking it and catching it, but it bears down with its hundreds of legs, determined to pull itself back into its hole. Remember what it was like to pull a nightcrawler out of the ground? Well this guy is possibly ten feet long, and you stand off with him upwards of sixty minutes only to have him finally snap in two. Victorious, you think, until he reappears days later and you discover that, since they’re segmented worms, the other half of him survived and is now a whole second worm, double the terror, double the fun.

Why, you ask, am I writing about this disgusting thing? There are a few reasons. One, after hearing about it and seeing it, I found it so disgustingly foreign, especially in this video, that I wanted everyone else to be as uncomfortable as I am now. Two, it gave me a good opportunity to revisit that whole Lorena Bobbitt thing and come up with some creative monikers. Three, I wanted to show you that Tremors was actually a documentary that just happened to include Hollywood actors. And four, did you watch those videos?! I mean seriously…

Fine Print Disclaimer: This blog post and it’s writer are not responsible for any nightmares, acute psychosis, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms that may result from the consumption of the text and/or video content presented above. 

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