The Bearded Fireworm

The Bearded Fireworm (Hermodice carunculata) is a species of marine bristle worm,

averaging 12 – 15 centimetres in length, but can undoubtedly reach a length of 30 centimetres.

This active bristle worm is a beautifull flattened worm, colours ranging from red and white, green, and yellowish. It is found in the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, Ascension Islands and Azores in the Atlantic Ocean. The Mediterranean Sea is a great place to find the reddish- orange and white species. They dwell in varied environments, such as coral, rock, sand, posidonia grass and mud.  Attaching themselves to drift wood and boots sub-structure, this helps their distribution around the oceans. Bristled worms can be found both in shallow waters and down to a depth of 40 metres.

These worms have a protective cuticle which is divided into segments, the longer the worm, the more segments it will have. Each small segment has a thin, white dividing line and possesses a group of white bristles which have a stinging power. One pair of red branched gills and a pair of parapodia (leg type structures for mobility) is also given to each individual segment. On the anterior part of the worm, protrudes small growths, these have the same colour of the gills on the first four segments and are called caruncle. The mouth is located on the second segment and is ventral, the head and eyes, along with other sensory organs can be located on the first segment of the worm structure.

Nature has made a way to secure the reproduction of the bristle worm. It can be reproduced through sexual means, thus spawning 2-5 days after a full moon. All the larvae that survive, will drift out to sea and the new life cycle will continue from there. The second method is an asexual reproduction; here the worm undergoes a fragmentation of its body, by separating into two or three sections, each section is able to regenerate its own head and tail, growing into new individual worms.

Their behaviour is often of solitude, but can occasionally can be found in groups. If it is threatened, the fireworm spreads out and flares its bristles, which are filled with venom to defend itself. The bristles are very fine and can easily penetrate the skin of humans where they break off and cause a stinging, burning sensation. The broken off bristles are very difficult to remove; the burning sensation can last over a period of weeks. At night time, the bearded fireworm is fluorescent, this is a phenomenon that is found in other invertebrates and little is known about this function.

The bearded fireworm, with a large appetite spends most of its time in search of food. It is highly mobile, but is slow in moving forward. Active mostly at night time and less active through the middle of the day, the fireworm is little threat to humans, other than you come into personal contact with its bristles. They feed on soft and hard coral, sea anemones, other invertebrates and small crustaceans. A scavenger instinct is also there, eating lifeless animals on the sea bed, as well as animals caught up in nets and traps: octopus, squid, krill, clams and shrimps. Fireworms track their prey using the caruncle organ found on the anterior section of its body. If one notices coral that has an absence of colour, this may be caused through the fireworm. It has an ability to engulf a coral tip, suck out the coral tissue directly from the skeleton, all within 10 minutes and leave the coral tip white.

The bearded fireworm (Hermodice carunculata) is not listed in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)