10 Freaky Facts About the Bobbit Worm

Bobbit Worm - Eunice aphroditois
Brent Durand / Getty Images

Whether it's the Bobbit worm's impressive length, its strong scissor-like jaws, or its ambush hunting style, there are plenty of reasons to be fascinated by the mysterious sand striker (Eunice aphroditois).

Fast Facts

  • Common Name: Bobbit worm
  • Scientific Name: Eunice aphroditois
  • Average Lifespan in the Wild: Three to five years
  • IUCN Red List Status: Not evaluated
  • Current Population: Unknown

1. The Bobbit Worm Can Grow to Be Nearly 10 Feet Long

In 2009, a nearly 10-foot-long Bobbit worm was discovered living within an aquaculture raft in Shirahama, Japan. At some point during the fish pen's 13-year tenure, a Bobbit worm decided to make its home in one of the raft's floats. The hidden resident was only discovered when the raft was decommissioned. The worm measured 299 cm (117 inches, or 9.8 feet), had 673 segments, and weighed 433 grams (15.27 ounces).

Other similarly long Bobbit worms have been discovered in Australia and the Iberian Peninsula, although Bobbit worms of these impressive lengths are decidedly rare. On average, Bobbit worms are about 3 feet long.

2. They've Been Around for at Least 20 Million Years

The Bobbit worm's mucus secretions and iron deposits (more on those below) together have allowed some Bobbit worm dens to remain preserved in the fossil record, including a 20-million-year-old Bobbit worm lair in Taiwan.

Bobbit worms are unique in that they are among only a few species of predatory worms ever found fossilized—most other underwater worms discovered in the fossil record are believed to have lived off of detritus or tiny particles floating in the water.

3. Bobbit Worms Build Mucus-Lined Burrows in the Seafloor

Bobbit worm in Lembeh strait
Jenhung Huang / Getty Images

It's rare to see a Bobbit worm's full body. Unlike other related species, it creates an L-shaped burrow in the sand to hide away undetected.

Upon reaching sexual maturity, some Bobbit worms line their burrows with mucus to establish a more permanent fixture in the sand. The proteins in the mucus strengthen the burrow's walls, helping the burrow stay in place.

4. They Hunt by Ambushing Prey

From their sandy burrows, these underwater worms do what they can to remain hidden. Some Bobbit worms have been seen to go as far as using an antenna to mimic a smaller ocean worm.

Regardless of whether prey is attracted to the Bobbit worm's lair by the antenna decoy or by sheer bad luck, the Bobbit worm responds immediately. The hidden creature is said to rapidly thrust its body out of its burrow, grab its prey, and drag its prize back into its den. The ensuing fight can collapse a Bobbit worm's burrow opening.

5. They Are Practically Blind

Bobbit worms have two eyes located in the front section of their head, but they are almost completely blind. The worms mostly use their antennae to sense their prey.

They also don't have much of a brain; instead, they have a nerve cell cluster in their autonomic nervous system called a ganglion.

6. Fish Fend Off Their Attacks With Water Jets

Peter's monocle bream (Scolopsis affinis)
Peter's monocle bream (Scolopsis affinis) will defend itself against bobbit worm attacks.

Rickard Zerpe / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Tropical fish can defend themselves from Bobbit worm attacks with a tactic scientists describe as "mobbing."

When the Peters' monocle bream, a type of tropical fish, is attacked by a Bobbit worm, the fish directs sharp jets of water back at its attacker. In a coordinated group attack, other nearby Peters' monocle breams join in with additional water jets. The fish's mobbing behavior can coerce the Bobbit worm into abandoning its attack.

7. Bobbit Worms Can Secretly Wreak Havoc in Aquariums

Just like the nearly 10-foot undetected Bobbit worm found in a Japanese aquaculture pen, Bobbit worms have been found hiding out in aquariums, too.

In 2009, an aquarium in the U.K. discovered a 4-foot-long Bobbit worm in one of its tanks. The Bobbit worm attacked a number of prized fish before it was discovered.

On another occasion, a home aquarist found a Bobbit worm hiding in his fish tank. In both cases, the Bobbit worm broke into multiple pieces when handled. Even when separated, the Bobbit worm pieces appeared to still be alive.

8. Their Jaws Are Wider Than Their Body

A bobbit worm with its jaws widened.
The bobbit worm's scissor-like jaws are wider then its body.

atese / Getty Images

The Bobbit worm has two pairs of scissor-like retractable jaws that extend well past the worm's body when open. When waiting for unsuspecting prey, the Bobbit worm sits with just its jaws poking out of its burrow, open and ready to trap its next meal.

According to some observations, the Bobbit worm's jaws are so strong, they can cut the worm's prey in half. The Bobbit worm's wide jaws are also impressively durable. Scientists have discovered the jaws of Bobbit worms and their relatives preserved in the fossil record.

9. Their Bristles Are Quite Powerful

Bobbit worms belong to the class polychaeta, which means "many hairs" in greek.

Their long bodies are covered in tiny bristles that help them explode out of their burrows when hunting. These bristles allow them to grip onto their burrow's walls to stay in position when hiding and to pull their prey in to feed.

10. Microbes Deposit Iron Outside the Bobbit Worm's Den

The mucus secreted by the Bobbit worm is full of nutrients microbes love. Sulfate-reducing bacteria in particular enjoy the Bobbit worm's carbon-rich mucus. By snacking on Bobbit worm secretions, these microbes create conditions ripe for sulfide to accumulate.

When portions of the burrow are exposed to oxygen in seawater, like the burrow's lining and the burrow opening, the iron sulfide becomes iron hydroxides like hematite, limonite, or goethite.

In other portions of the Bobbit worm's burrow where iron concentrations are low, small collapses in the sediment create a feather-like pattern.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • What do bobbit worms eat?

    Bobbit worms are omnivores that'll eat anything from macroalgae to small fish. They've even been known to eat an octopus.

  • Where do bobbit worms live?

    Bobbit worms live at the bottom of tropic and subtropic bodies of water in the Indo-Pacific. They've been discovered in Bali, New Guinea, the Philippines, Australia, Fiji, and Indonesia.

  • Can bobbit worms hurt humans?

    Bobbit worms are equipped with venomous bristles and mandibles so sharp they can cut a fish in half. So, yes, they could also cause some damage to a human. Thankfully, there are no reports of a person ever being attacked by a bobbit worm.

  • Why do bobbit worms split into several parts?

    Bobbit worms have a strange ability to "split" into several parts, which they do when they feel threatened or to reproduce (asexually, that is). This phenomenon is called multiplying.

View Article Sources
  1. Pan, YY., Nara, M., Löwemark, L. et al. "The 20-million-year old lair of an ambush-predatory worm preserved in northeast Taiwan." Scientific Reports Vol. 11, 2021. doi:10.1038/s41598-020-79311-0

  2. Lachat, J., Haag-Wackernagel, D. "Novel mobbing strategies of a fish population against a sessile annelid predator." Scientific Reports Vol. 6, 2016. doi:10.1038/srep33187

  3. Eriksson, M., Parry, L. & Rudkin, D. "Earth’s oldest ‘Bobbit worm’ – gigantism in a Devonian eunicidan polychaete." Scientific Reports Vol 7, 2017. doi:10.1038/srep43061

  4. Lalonde, S.V. et al. "Investigating The Geochemical Impact Of Burrowing Animals: Proton And Cadmium Adsorption Onto The Mucus Lining Of Terebellid Polychaete Worms." Chemical Geology, Vol 271, no. 1-2, 2010. doi:10.1016/j.chemgeo.2009.12.010