More annelid than anaconda

 

Bobbitt

John Bobbitt: Baby, this is not what I meant by "trial separation"

Once upon a time in 1993, when I was imbibing my sophomore year at college in Australia – drinking in the knowledge, so to speak – I heard tell of a horrific crime, one that struck fear into the hearts and sub-heart-areas of men everywhere.  Accompanied by the essential preface “Only in America…”, men whispered and women snickered about a suburban woman, Lorena Bobbitt, who had taken to her husband’s genitalia with a Ginsu knife and later discarded the detached digit out the window of her car (rumour has it, directly into the windshield of a car coming the other way).  Soon enough just the name Bobbitt become synonymous with penile amputation, even in Brisbane, about as far from Mannassas Virginia as it’s possible to be (a reassuring thought for the male residents of Queensland’s capital, I can tell you).  If the third digit in your birth year is an 8 or higher, you probably have no idea what I mean, but just trust me, those were dark dark times…

But Bobbitt has another homonymous meaning, more annelid than anaconda, more polychaete than pajama python.  It’s the common name for a truly remarkable worm: Eunice aphroditois, the Bobbit worm.  It’s easy to think E. aphroditois was named by someone with a (somewhat blue) sense of humour, and some have done so,  but the spelling suggests that the names are not related and – rather frustratingly – I have not been able to confirm the origins of the name, at least not without attracting the attention of our IT staff…  Regardless of where the common name comes from, the animal itself is a fantastic critter, one of the largest of all polychaetes (reaching 3 meters in length and thick as a bratwurst), with a colourful cuticle and armed with a pair of heavily toothed jaws that command respect, and not just of the knee-crossing variety.

Come closer...closer....that's it, just a little more...

In 2009, the Blue Reef Aquarium in the UK discovered a truly enormous one of these bad boys in one of their exhibits after a series of severed carcasses were found floating in the tank.  They nicknamed him Barry, and here he is…

Barry the Bobbit (c) Rex/Daily Mail

Bobbit’s are ambush predators.  They hang around sticking out the sand like the one above, just waiting for some hapless victim to come close enough to trigger their sensitive peri-oral tentacles and then slam!

Lorena would be proud. img: http://www.diverkevin.com/

As we go into this weekend, griping about another hard work week in the books, just be glad you’re neither John Wayne Bobbitt, nor a hapless Philippine goatfish. And next time you’re doing the stingray shuffle across a beach or reef flat, just consider that, while you may be scaring away the rays with ruthless efficiency, you’re doing it using what must be the optimal bobbit worm finding strategy in existence, and wiggly pink toes are just about ideal size for those hair-trigger jaws…

para_sight (138 Posts)

Dr. Alistair Dove is a systematic and ecological parasitologist by training, with broader research interests in the natural history and health of marine animals, especially whale sharks. He is currently Director of Research and Conservation at Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta USA. His comments here do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Georgia Aquarium





5 comments on “More annelid than anaconda
  1. The term Bobbit worm was quoted by Terry Gosliner for the large raptorial Eunice from the Philippines/Indo-Pacific-although if it does turn out to be E. aphrodites the species is widespread. Here was the book where it was first reported.. http://www.amazon.com/Coral-Reef-Animals-Indo-Pacific-Vertebrates/dp/0930118219/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1334924640&sr=8-1

    and here’s some video for ya!
    http://echinoblog.blogspot.com/2009/07/off-topic-giant-worm-friday-bobbit-worm.html

    • Thanks Chris! I’ve reached out to Terry. Hopefully he can confirm the origins of the name.

  2. Pingback: Latest Reef Aquarium Care News

Comments are closed.