Bearded fireworm, Hermodice carunculata
Stings like fire for a long time.
Bearded fireworms are usually 15 centimetres in average length, but can reach up to 30 centimetres.
At first glance, this fire worm looks like a centipede with its elongated and flattened appearance, its multiple segments, its white silks, its parapodia and gills located on the side of its body. Its colors are varied and range from greenish, to yellowish, to reddish, grayish through white with a pearly glow. The body consists of 60 to 150 identical segments separated from each other by a thin white line and protected by cuticles. Each segment has a pair of parapods, structure for locomotion, bunch of stinging white bristles and red or orange gills all in bilateral position. The anterior part of the worm can be recognized by small growths, called caruncle, which have the same color to the gills on the first four segments. The mouth is ventral and is located on the second segment. The head is shown on the first segment and includes the eyes and other sensory organs
The bearded fireworm is a voracious predator and feeds on dead or decaying organisms and coral polyps.
The bearded fireworm is a slow creature, and is not considered a threat to humans unless touched by a careless swimmer. The bristles, when flared, can penetrate human skin, injecting a powerful neurotoxin and producing intense irritation and a painful burning sensation around the area of contact. The sting can also lead to nausea and dizziness. This sensation lasts up to a few hours, but a painful tingling can continue to be felt around the area of contact. In a case of accidental contact, application and removal of adhesive tape will help remove the spines; applying isopropanol to the area may help alleviate the pain.
Photograph by Tony Rath
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