THE BEARDED FIREWORM
An article with Hannah Mackay with The Voice
Hermodice carunculata is commonly known as The Bearded Fireworm and is a great looking little creature. It is actually a type of Bristleworm from the fireworm family Amphinomidae. It is a very slow creature and generally not a threat to humans unless it is touched! The fireworm looks like a fury orangey/red punk-rock caterpillar, with pods of white fur along its back. It usually only grows between 5-10cm long, but there have been reports from other parts of the world where these strange creatures have been measured and reach up to 35cm in length.
They are usually found on reefs and rocks where they are clambering about looking for food. The have venomous white hollow bristles which, when touched, can penetrate the skin and inject a powerful neuro-toxin, producing an intense irritation and a painful burning sensation, hence their name. The intense pain can also lead to nausea and dizziness which can last for a few hours. This amazing defence mechanism means they fear no predators and are often out and about during the day.
The Bearded Fireworm lives off of coral and eats by draping themselves over it and then sucking the living coral animals out of their rocky skeletons. They eat both soft and hard corals along with sea anemones and small crustaceans.
The Bearded Fireworm has both Asexual and Sexual reproduction. Asexual reproduction involves the individual undergoing fragmentation. This is where the body divides into one or two parts and then regenerates to form a head or tail or both! The regenerated part then grows into a new individual and the cycle continues. Sexually, as in male and female specimens mating, these creatures reproduce in a spectacular display using Bioluminescence. During the mating season in early spring, the females of the species will swim up to the surface of the ocean and emit a greenish phosphorescent glow, which attracts the males towards them. The male of the species then emits flashing lights as they move towards the female. As they approach one another the sex shells shed and combine in the water. The larvae then hatch and drift out to sea, to continue their life cycle.
LOOK – DON´T TOUCH!
These fascinating creatures don’t pose an immediate threat and aren’t aggressive at all but always remember they may look fury and intriguing but LOOK, DONT TOUCH. Although fascinating to look at, consider them like a hedgehog that can fire napalm from its spines and stay away. If you are unfortunate enough to come into contact with one, by accident, sticky tape will help to remove the spines from your skin. You will then need to apply alcohol to the area, followed by cold water and ice as this will help to soothe the burning sensation.
But if you don’t want to get burnt – then don’t play with fire…worms!