A giant worm that eats penises and feeds them to its offspring has been found at a public aquarium in the UK.
Staff at The Deep in Hull recently discovered a 1m/39" specimen while moving rocks in one of the aquarium's exhibits.
The species, Eunice aphroditois, is a large predatory polychaete worm that can reach up to 3m/10' in length, though most are around a meter long. It typically feeds on live fish.
Known as the Bobbit worm, after the infamous Lorena Bobbit who chopped off her husband's penis in a domestic dispute, females of the species are claimed to "bite off the penis" of their male partner and feed it to their young.
The species is found mainly in Indo Pacific waters and is nocturnal, being most often recorded by divers on night dives on the rubble zones surrounding coral reefs.
During the night the Bobbit worm lies in wait with its powerful jaws open waiting for unsuspecting prey to swim or walk past.
It is equipped with special antennae that act as sensory organs to allow it to detect movement of ats nearby organisms in almost total darkness.
Once it has caught its prey, it retreats back into the substrate to consume the victim.
Aquarist Seb Prajsnar told Practical Fishkeeping: "I had just put my hands in one of our quarantine tanks and was just lifting a rock when out shot a massive worm which seemed to have appeared from nowhere!
"I ve never seen anything like it - It looked like something straight out of a science fiction movie! I shouted out to my colleagues who came to see for themselves. We identified this alien-like creature as a Bobbit worm, famous for its incredible jaws, which are twice its body width."
The Bobbit worm is among the longest worms in the world and there are reports of them growing up to three metres in length. The Bobbit tends to be nocturnal, lying in ambush in sand and rocks, like a living bear trap. It then snaps shut its deadly jaws on its unsuspecting prey!
The aquarium is now keeping the worm in its own aquarium.
Common name: Bobbit worm
Scientific name: Eunice aphroditois (Pallas, 1788)
Origin: Indo Pacific and Western Central Atlantic.
Size: Around 100cm/39", but potentially as large as 3m/10'.
Diet: Lives in soft substrates with its head protruding and feeds on live fish which it detects using a number of sensory antennae on its head. Prey and grabbed in its powerful jaws and then the worm rapidly retreats into its burrow to consume the prey.
Notes: Said to breed at a size of just 10cm/4", which is very early given the size and age of larger specimens. It has an protrusible proboscis, rather like that of the native British ragworm.
Some claim that there may be several related species masquerading under the scientific name Eunice aphroditois, including E. tentaculata.