This spring the shores of South Carolina come with a newly added feature - sea worms. These marine worms with hooked jaws are starting to be seen in South Carolina’s coastal waters per the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources per their Facebook page. DNR warns that beach goers may not want to partake in swimming while these creatures, who have hooked jaws, are found frequently in the local coastal waters.
These sea animals are sometimes called clamworms and ordinarily are found on the seafloor. During certain times of the year, such as new and full moons during the spring, these creatures undergo a transformation. Their tiny bodies morph into a much needed reproductive form named “epitokes”.
“This fascinating phenomenon occurs every year at our marine headquarters in Charleston and is often followed by hungry throngs of fish and birds along the marsh edge,” per the Department of Natural Resources.
DNR experts warned that people may not want to go swimming with these creatures, as clamworms do have hooked jaws.
“But it’s hard not to appreciate such an unusual coastal sight,” SC DNR's Facebook post stated.
The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Facebook page gives us a closer look. See the video below.
Local experts are intrigued by this unique sighting, but still warn vacationers to keep their distance and stay clear. Per Enature.com they have a mouth, a lip, two pairs of eyes and a very strong hook jaw. They may look like an earthworm, but these creatures are stronger. Clamworms are able to break human skin with their jaws.
If you see a frenzy of these marine worms, stay clear. They have a mouth, a lip, two pairs of eyes, and a set of strong hook-like jaws, according to enature.com. Unlike an earthworm, the clamworm’s mouth and jaws are strong enough to break human skin.
Per Wikipedia, the clam worm can reach upward toward 15 centimetres (6 in) in length, but most specimens are smaller than this. It is usually a brown color at the rear with red-brown on the rest of its body. The clamworm also has an identifiable head with four eyes, two sensory feelers or palps, and many tentacles. Something one may not want to inspect themselves per experts at the DNR.
These sea creatures are part of the ocean eco-structure. Clamworms are an important food source for bottom-feeding fish and crustaceans. Per Kiddle, they are a free swimming polychaete, scavenging on the bottom of shallow marine waters. They feed on other worms plus algae. To feed, clamworms use a proboscis, which has two hooks at the end. These hooks grasp prey and pull it into their mouth. Clamworms are an important food source for bottom-feeding fish and crustaceans. Clamworms try to protect themselves by secreting a mucus substance that hardens to form a sheath around them.
During lunar phases in the spring and early summer, the clam worm undergoes "heterogenesis". Their parapodia enlarge so they can swim. The clamworms are then capable of releasing eggs and sperm. After they have released their egg or sperm, they die.
Planktonic larvae develop, grow into annelids and eventually sink to the bottom of the water.
After spring and the change of the lunar cycle, these sea creatures will return to the bottom of the ocean where they in turn become food for the bottom-feeding fish and crustaceans. They are an important part of the eco-system even it they look a bit menacing to spring breakers.
Video and Photo Sources - S.C. Department of Natural Resources and Ava Roxanne Stritt