Bobbit Worm

Kristian Fauchald Fauchald.Kristian at
Wed Jul 28 17:18:59 EST 1999

This is a case which tells us how very unfortunate it is to use popular 
names!  (Very nearly as unfortunate as Mr. Bobbit was in the first place). 
Eunice aphroditois is the type of the genus Eunice.  The story is a bit 
complex taxonomically, but the name Eunice gigantea is under any 
circumstances invalid and cannot be used.  The worm was first described 
by Pallas as Nereis aphroditois in 1766 I believe.  

What little gut content I have looked at, suggests that the worms feed on 
algal remnants and so forth, but that they also will grab swimming 
crustaceans.  The snap mechanism of the jaws were described very ably 
for a related species by Gesa Hartmann-Schroeder some time ago and is 
one of the characteristic features of jaws of lumbrinerids, onuphids and 
eunicids.  The illustrations of the worms sitting upright with the jaws cocked 
come both from the Philippines and from the Virgin Islands, perhaps not 
the same species, but certainly very similar.  I have seen them out only at 
dusk.  It is worthwhile noting that members of this species get sexually 
mature at a much smaller size than these 3 m monsters, probably at less 
than 10cm in fact, and that most members of the populations are dead 
before they reach anywhere near the size of these things.  Is this an 
escape from predation through size? They are reported to get rather old, 
but again the data are dubious.  

Kristian Fauchald

<Fauchald.Kristian at NMNH.SI.EDU>

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