One of the benefits of living on a beach or near a body of water is that many interesting things wash up daily. One of the drawbacks to living near the beach or ocean is that some of those things can kill you, eat you or at least make the tanning lotion stand up on your back. A couple of those mysterious type 3 creatures showed up last week in Taiwan and Wales and those who saw them live or on video are still debating what exactly they were … and if they could move up to the ‘kill’ or ‘eat you’ status.
“I found this on the ground and it caught my eye.”
That painful-sounding experience occurred when Huang Meilan found a mysterious worm-ball creature on some rocks in Hsinchu City on Taiwan’s northwest coast. The creature was moving but Huang had no idea how. Fortunately, she knew how to use her cell phone and got a nice video of the thing skittering across a rock.
“It was so strange and people said different things about it. But I wanted to know what it actually was.”
And if it was edible with some hoisin sauce? Huang posted the video and appealed to the Internet for ideas (and recipes?). The most common response was that the ball of worms was a ball of worms – specifically, Nematomorpha, also known as horsehair worms or Gordian worms (ooh, there’s a big hint in that name). They range in size from 50 to 100 mm (2.0 to 3.9 in) long with a maximum length of 2 meters (6.5 feet). The live in damp areas and get the ‘Gordian’ name because these long worms are often found knotted up in a ball while … you guessed it … mating. Huang had interrupted Nematomorpha coitus, something that would probably have meant she’d be killed or eaten if the worms were a lot bigger. Luckily, they just awkwardly rolled away.
On the other side of the world, beachcomber Suzy Watkins and her family were on Burry Port beach in Carmarthenshire in southwest Wales when they discovered a strange beast that was much bigger than the Taiwan worm ball and, instead of rolling around, had worms coming out of the shells and barnacles covering it, which usually indicates to natives what it might be but flips the flip-flops off of beach-walking tourists. In fact, it attracted a crowd of them. What it the name of Jack Sparrow was it?
Local council ranger Emyr Richards informed the Watkins family and other mystified tourists that the beast they had stumbled upon was a large piece of driftwood covered in gooseneck barnacles. When boiled, they’re considered to be a delicacy in Spain but not in Wales (not even after a long night at the pub). In case you’re interested, the barnacles may have also been mating – barnacles are hermaphrodites and the only sessile animals (live their lives anchored to something) that actually copulate with penises that can be eight times their body length. Maybe what Suzy Watkins saw between the shells weren’t worms.
The monsters washed up out of the waters this week weren’t killers or man-eaters but they were still pretty interesting.
Which is a better band name: Nematomorpha Coitus or Writhing Balls of Worms?