When Wei Cheng Jian brought a weird, slimy creature to shore and posted the images to his Facebook page (below), I wonder if he knew he had a member of the phylum Nemertea, or a ribbon worm on his hands. Regardless, there’s nothing quite like seeing a undulating string of Gak extend a probing proboscis as long as it is.
Ribbon worms (also known as proboscis worms) are as interesting as they are gross. There could be as many as 1,000 different species of ribbon worm — some get so long that the are in the running for the longest creatures on Earth. Oh, and when they are submerged in water and cocooned in goo, they look like a pile of intestines.
The “tongue” that you see worming its way out of the creature is in fact its namesake proboscis. Held in a sack near the worm’s gut, the proboscis waits in this sheath until prey is detected. When it gets close enough for the worm to strike, fluid rushes in to squeeze this sheath and force the proboscis out of the animal, inside-out, looking for food to pull back into its gut.
In the images above, it looks like the worm is simply trying to figure out where it is…with its facemouth.
About a month ago we met another ribbon worm with a much stranger proboscis. Its appendage extended out from its body like a fractal nose glove. Remember? Doesn’t matter, I’m showing you the GIF anyway.
So, what Wei Cheng Jian found isn’t an alien or lost creature or what Alex Mack turned into in her secret world. It’s a fascinating creature from a fairly diverse family of undersea worms. And it makes all the best GIFs to send to unsuspecting friends. Go ahead, call it research.