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Bearded Fireworm. Photo: Pete Bullen

Bearded Fireworm

Mads Anderson

Hi! My name's Mads, and I'm 17 years old. I learnt to dive when I was 12 years old, now I am a PADI Master Scuba Diver, ISE Sidemount Diver and TDI Intro to Cave Certified. I am currently studying for my A-Levels (Biology, Physics and Maths) and in September will be off to University to study Marine Biology!

The Hermodice carunculata or the "Bearded Fireworm" is a species of Marine Bristleworm native to the tropical Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. The Bearded Fireworm is a spectacularly multi- coloured patterned worm that can reach up to 35cm in length (but more commonly 7-10cm). They are abundantly found on reefs, in rocky areas and in areas of seagrass. They have also previously been found in flotsam and up to depths of at least 60m.

Apart from the head and tail segments, all sections along the worm are identical. Each part has a pair of "paddles" (called parapodia) used for swimming, burrowing and creating a feeding current. Along both sides of its body are groups of long white bristles which flare out defensively if the worm is disturbed. These bristles are very sharp, penetrate flesh extremely easily and once embedded shred readily off the worm. The worm is fairly slow moving and not considered a threat to humans, however the bristles are hollow on the inside and filled with venom. The sting can lead to an intense feeling of irritation, a burning sensation and may even cause nausea and dizziness. The effects can last for a few hours but a painful tingling may remain after that. The "fire" part of their name therefore comes as no surprise...

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