A video of a bizarrely behaving worm-like creature is currently nope-ing the whole Internet. I’m not one to hate on weird organisms, but even I was taken aback by whatever this thing is doing to the man’s hand below. Click if you dare, then stick around for the science.
So what the heck is this thing? As numerous sources have already pointed out, this appears to be a proboscis or ribbon worm (of which there might be 1,000 different species). Some quick facts: some species of ribbon worms may be the longest creatures on Earth and the big ones look like deep sea intestines. Well, there you go.
But what sets ribbon worms apart from all other worms is their namesake proboscis. This feeding appendage is held in a sheath or sac above a ribbon worm’s gut. When prey is detected, muscles rapidly contract and force fluid into the sheath, which turns the proboscis inside-out and forces it through the proboscis pore at the head of the worm. It wraps around prey and is then drawn in for a meal. In some species the proboscis can extend out 30 times the length the worm.
It would be like having a rubber glove inside your face that you could force outwards by blowing into it.
However, the worm in the above video is special. While ribbon worms distinguish themselves from other worms with their proboscis, ribbon worms of the species Gorgonorhynchus distinguish themselves from other ribbon worms with a particularly special proboscis. “The peculiarity of Gorgonorhynchus, distinguishing it from all other members of the group, is the branching proboscis,” writes J. F. G. Wheeler in a letter to Nature. It is this branching that is so astounding, and suggests this is the species of worm in the video.
Imagine you have a hole where your nose should be, and that hole is filled with a fleshy glove, with the fingers of the glove reaching into your head. Imagine blowing the glove outwards (turning it inside out in the process). Now, imagine that there are smaller gloves on the tips of the first glove’s fingers, and so on, and so on.
Summing up, the video above shows a ribbon worm, probably Gorgonorhynchus, everting a fractal nose glove. Writing that sentence was almost as fun as watching the video.
Oh, and I made it into a Twitter-embeddable GIF for you: