Fireworms, curse them to a thousand tiny hells

Though my giant swollen hand remains a medical mystery, I now have a suspect. The dread Bearded Fireworm lives on the reef, peaceably crawling about munching on coral polyps. Until…a giant five-fingered hand reaches down from the sky and tried to sample the tunicate that it happens to be crawling on. Then the worm extends its GIANT POISONOUS SPIKES and bam! The offending hand is useless for a week.

They’re not exactly spikes, of course. Most marine worms are polychaetes, also known as bristleworms. Each of their segments has a fleshy protrusion called parapodia, from which protrudes hair-like bristles called setae. (Here’s a nice diagram.) Setae come in all kinds of forms – they can be jointed for traction, hooked for gripping, and so on – but the bearded fireworm’s case, they are hollow and filled with poison. Because of this kickass defense, fireworms fear no predators and are out and about during the day. The one that nailed me must have been small or I would have seen it, but individuals can get up to 12″ long.

Bearded fireworms apparently also have an unfortunate tendency to sneak into people’s aquariums. Googling around brought out some rather desperate threads on how to remove them. I can personally assure these people that gloves are no defense. I wasn’t wearing any pansy neoprene diving gloves, either – when I work with spiky things like nasty spicule-filled tunicates, I wear hardened rubber work gloves. But they were no match for the probable fireworm, no no.

The moral of this story? Looky, no touchy is BY FAR the best way to hang out on a reef. Collecting tunicate samples is way more harrowing than I thought it would be. On top of the fireworm, I almost got nailed by an extraordinarily attractive and extraordinarily toothy Golden Moray yesterday. (Rick would be…so proud. Scroll down for his That’s a Moray Monday series with all the moray goodness you can handle. Except for the golden moray. Rick, do you take requests?)

And sorry, ghouls. I forgot to take a photo of the swollen hand at its peak, what with the science and the doctor and all. Though my thumb still hurts, it is no longer even the slightest bit impressive. You will simply have to use your fervid imagination.


22 Responses to Fireworms, curse them to a thousand tiny hells

  1. scott says:

    you think that’s hardcore? i have to go to the movies every week! talk about harrowing.

  2. Justin says:

    I guess you didn’t feel it happen? Does that imply the poison has some kind of anesthesia effect, kinda like the stuff in leech saliva?And if so, how is that a defense?

    Either way, glad it wasn’t worse.

  3. for a separate perspective, i accidentally touched a fireworm in honduras once… it was full-on pain from the second i touched it… the setae are stiff, glass-like bristles that feel just like getting nettle thorns stuck in your skin… some lodged in too deep to pull out with my fingers… others protruded and were just as painful as you would expect from a tiny splinter or nettle thorn… when i tried to remove with my finger tips, it was painful just to move them slightly…

    then there’s the toxin that starts lighting-up your nerves at the same time… so take a sewing needle, heat it in a flame, stick that in your finger, then pour some rubbing alcohol on top…

    i would have welcomed an anesthetic effect…

    i had some pretty impressive swelling too…

  4. oh, and is it just me or does “bearded fireworm” sound like some juvenile, fratboy euphemism for genitalia?

    [smirks] bearded fireworm… he he he…

  5. By Rick’s description, the culprit wasn’t a fireworm – or at least, a very small one or a different kind. I didn’t feel it happen. I just had pain and irritation at the base of my thumb that got worse over a couple days.

    As for the euphemistic possibilities – I fear that “fireworm” implies, erm, not the healthiest of genitalia. “Dude! Get your bearded fireworm over to the clinic! They have medicine for that!”

  6. Anonymous says:

    Hi, I have a great big fire-worm problem. Initially I went by the advice I gathered online to let them be (when there were only 2) and now (4 dead gorgeous fish later) my aquarium is infested with ~50 of them that are visible.
    I tried to get one out yesterday and must have hurt it in the process (in my first try to pull it out) because it went into hiding and came back spewing there (spores?) all over the tank and that initiated the same response form all of them all over the tank. The tank water turned light pink from all the (spores) particles being spewed out.

    I am one to not harm things but seeing this, I only feel very bad for the rest of the living creatures in my tank. If I could somehow save all the vert and invert creatures, I would not mind boiling my tank to a crisp to sterilize it.

    I can’t believe how lacking the internet is regarding how to get rid of these things safely.

    I suppose I should clean out my tank and start again by first treating with Paraguard for 2 weeks.

    Thanks for reading.

  7. Wow, I enjoyed your neat post.

  8. testowe says:

    Have you ever considered about including a little bit more than just your articles? I mean, what you say is important and everything. But imagine if you added some great photos or videos to give your posts more, “pop”! Your content is excellent but with images and videos, this blog could undeniably be one of the most beneficial in its niche. Excellent blog!

  9. A very useful and helpful site with great articles for everyone and for me too. I discovered your website from a link posted on a forum. I will Come here regularly because i like your site.

  10. Hi, real appreciation for the great article and the information, it is really goodand helpful.Thankyou

  11. Horacio Maco says:

    Hi~i am come back~just possess a look~Aha~nice article too~~~

  12. Wonderful! This really answered my problem, thank you!

  13. what exactly is your blog template? may i include a single… your design is quite good!

  14. Marinepowah!!!! says:

    I almost touched a bearded fireworm in the beach corals cuz I was using my underwater camera to take pics of corals and fishes then I touched a brain coral then next to it I saw a fire worm then I quickly removed my hand from the next coral!

  15. Specialized technicians can easily locate and pump your septic tank.
    Commercial plumbers perform an equally important job when servicing commercial clients.
    In addition to these problems, installing fixtures such as toilets requires
    a process which, if not followed to the letter, may cause the
    DIY homeowner to remove the fixture and try again.

  16. After fetching the results, you would get so many servicers in your city.
    The documentation also warns that some media players may not be enthusiastic about using the default audio player and may go looking for
    the hardware by themselves. You can make a homemade old-fashioned bootlegger style distillery for distilling large
    batches of water.

  17. So many people wait until they have worked with a realtor
    and found the home they want only to have loan problems and lose
    their dream home to someone else. There are other times when a
    review of your W-4 should be considered. That is why the average American is in $10,000 credit card debt.

  18. I was wondering if you ever considered changing the page layout of your blog?
    Its very well written; I love what youve got to say. But maybe you could a little more in the way of
    content so people could connect with it better. Youve got an awful lot of text for only having
    one or two pictures. Maybe you could space it out better?

  19. If youve been starving for a while, simply eating 2 eggs will provide you the most diverse of
    nutrients you can get most foods simply cant provide.

    From insulin shots to diabetes medicines that regulate
    blood sugar, these medicines are not the cure but merely alleviate symptoms.
    After what is most often years if not decades of battling weight
    issues such as food addiction, one cannot just expect to lose
    weight in an instant.

  20. Fastidious answers in return of this question with
    real arguments and explaining the whole thing concerning that.

  21. wonderful put up, very informative. I wonder why
    the other specialists of this sector do not notice this.
    You must proceed your writing. I am sure, you have a great readers’ base already!

  22. […] Incidentally, they’re called fireworms because one does NOT want to touch them. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: