Giant isopods and vampire squid are sooooo last year. I bet you’re even sleeping through the night now without imagining sixgill sharks tearing at your carcass. Fear not! Or should I say – FEAR MORE. I am here with an entirely new species to fuel your fevered nightmares.
Meet the giant Antarctic scaleworm Eulagisca. Last week, I wandered down into the Scripps Benthic Invertebrate Collection and saw this bad boy sitting in a giant gallon-sized jar (here’s a coffee mug for scale).
Yes, that’s a worm. For reference, most scaleworms look like this:
When I mentioned that the GIANT FRICKIN’ SCALEWORM to the collections manager, she chortled evilly and opened the jar for me. It gets worse. So much worse.
BEHOLD: the jaws of Eulagisca. This photo is taken from the top of the jar looking down. Yes, that entire purple structure is a GIANT SET OF JAWS sticking out of the front of the GIANT WORM.
Many polychaete worms have an eversible pharynx – most of the time those jaws are tucked away, but when the worm wants to feed, the entire front of their throat rolls out of their mouth. Here’s a better photo from the Smithsonian Antarctic Invertebrates collection. Yes, that scale bar say 2 cm (0.8 inches) – the jaws and pharynx are around two inches long!
I could not find any ecological information on Eulagisca in the scientific literature, so I don’t know what it eats. It inhabits the continental shelf off Antarctica, and could be a predator or scavenger or both. Chris Mah, being all up on the Antarctic invertebrates, wrote about Eulagisca a couple months ago, and guess that it was predatory. Any experts in the audience should chime in. In the meantime – AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.