[Annelida] Furia infernalis

Geoff Read via annelida%40net.bio.net (by g.read from niwa.co.nz)
Fri Aug 27 04:30:51 EST 2010

Hello all,

This week a mystery never solved. We shall consider one of Carl von
Linne's more improbable wormy taxa, Furia infernalis.

Furia, the Hell Fire Worm genus, is sandwiched between Gordius, the
horsehair worms, and Lumbricus on p.647 in the Vermes of the Systema
Naturae 10th ed.

Linnaeus based his 1758 diagnosis of Furia infernalis on an unpublished
Ms of his protege Daniel Solander, a botanist later famous for his
participation in James Cook's first voyage to Australasia. Solander's
own account of the organism was eventually published in 1772. However, I
can't locate a copy of Solander's text, but never mind as this very
unpleasant 'worm' has been brilliantly described thus by popular English
naturalist William Bingley, a reverend gentleman who knew all about it.

"The body of the Furia is linear, and of equal thickness throughout. It
has on each side a single row of close-pressed reflected prickles. 
"Of this tribe only one species, the Furia infernalis, has been
hitherto discovered. In Finland, Bothnia, and the northern provinces of
Sweden, the people were often seized with an acute pain, confined to a
mere point, in the face, or other exposed part of the body, which
afterwards increased to a most excruciating degree, and sometimes, even
within a few hours after its commencement, proved fatal. This disorder
was more particularly observed in Finland, especially about marshy
places, and always in autumn. At length it was discovered that the pain
instantly succeeded something that dropped out of the air, and almost in
a moment penetrated and buried itself in the flesh. On more accurate
attention, the Furia was detected as the cause. It is about half an inch
in length, and of a carnation colour, often black at the apex. It creeps
up the stalks of sedge-grass, and shrubs in the marshes, whence it is
often carried off by the wind ; and if the naked parts of the skin of
any person happen to be directly in its course it immediately adheres,
and buries itself within. The first sensation is said to be like that
arising from the prick of a needle, this is succeeded by a violent
itching of the part, soon after acute pain, a red spot and gangrene, at
last an inflammatory fever, accompanied with swoonings. In the course of
two days, at the farthest, death follows, unless the worm be extracted
immediately, which is very difficult to be done. The Finlanders say,
however, that a poultice of curds, or cheese, will allay the pain, and
entice the animal out. Perhaps the most effectual method is carefully to
dissect between the muscles where it had entered, and thus extract it
with the knife.
"Linnaeus, as he was once collecting insects, was stung by the Furia in
so dreadful a manner that there was great doubt whether he would

Source: p.528 In: Bingley, W.  1804: Animal biography; or, authentic
anecdotes of the lives, manners, and economy of the animal creation,
arranged according to the system of Linnaeus. Vol. III. Amphibious
animals,—fishes, insects,—worms.   [
http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/bibliography/41622 ]

Bingley also has an interesting account of Nereis noctiluca, the
night-shining Nereis, another little known Linnaean species, but unlike
Furia infernalis, one with some factual basis. Bingley says "they twist
and curl themselves with amazing agility, but soon retire out of our
contracted sight probably on account of their glittering numbers
dazzling the eye, and their extreme minuteness eluding our researches." 
He notes "They do not shine in the daytime, because the solar rays are
too powerful for their light, however aggregate, or however immense
their number."

Very likely he is correct on that. 


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