In the 1990 classic B-Movie Tremors, the sleeve-averse protagonist played by Kevin Bacon must save a town where people are disappearing. The only clue as to the townspeople’s fate is that something seems to be dragging them down into the dirt. There’s a flash of dust and then they are gone. Tremors may have introduced us to the “graboid” creature responsible, but nature beat Hollywood to the idea by millions of years–with something worse.
Meet the bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois), an aquatic, segmented worm in the same class as the beautiful and delicate feather duster worms. Except, bobbit worms can grow up to ten feet long and can cut fish in half with their lightning-fast strikes.
Bobbit worms, in contrast to graboids, are actually quite beautiful — when you can see their iridescent bodies. They spend most of their time buried underneath the sea floor, only head and jaws exposed, waiting for passing prey to tickle one of the worm’s five antennae. Once the worm has food in its grasp, it uses dozens of bristle-like outgrowths called parapodium to drag it to its doom. And then, something terrible happens, we assume. A bobbit worm feeding has never been observed.
“We think that the eunicid injects some narcotizing or killing toxin in their prey animal, such that it can be safely ingested — especially if they are larger than the worm — and then digested through the gut,” said worm ecologists Luis F. Carrera-Parra and Sergio I. Salazar-Vallejo in Wired. Bobbit worm sex also, perhaps thankfully, remains a mystery.
As for what it eats, it looks to be just about anything that wanders into its jaws. Cuttlefish, octopuses, crabs, and various fish can all be found getting devoured on YouTube. And because the worms can hide in all sorts of cracks and crevices when young, bobbit worms can inadvertently be transferred into aquariums, where they grow to enormous size and baffle attendants when aquarium fish disappear and coral gets chopped in half.
While maybe not as mobile as the fictional Tremors terrors, bobbit worms are just as voracious, are (probably) venomous, and can’t be tricked into falling through a cliff. They are the graboids of the sea, and I’m going to go ahead and pitch them for the Bacon-led Tremors reboot. Tremors under the sea. I mean, Kevin Bacon agrees.