Yes, the Bobbit Worm Is Real and Somewhat Terrifying

By: Mitch Ryan  | 
Pictured: something that contains enough toxins to kill a fish and permanently numb human skin. Ethan Daniels / Shutterstock

The bobbit worm, also known by its scientific name Eunice aphroditois, is a segmented worm species in the phylum Annelida. This animal family includes roughly 22,000 species of earthworms, leeches and other marine worms (polychaetes).

Polychaete bodies are split into several separate segments, connected by flexible tissue. Each body segment is equipped with a paddle-like parapodia flap that helps the creature move and breathe.


What Do Bobbit Worms Look Like?

Science is full of terrifying creatures that go bump in the night, and the bobbit worm is near the top of that list.

bobbit worm
Underwater centipede on LSD — sorry, we meant "bobbit worm at night."
scubaluna / Shutterstock

This worm has a slender, cylindrical body that can grow up to 10 feet long, ranging between metallic black and oil-slick purple.


Its luminescent skin might make it a unique addition to a home aquarium tank, but its aggressive nature would put its marine neighbors in a constant state of fight or flight.

The bobbit worm's most distinct features are its five antennae protruding from its eyeless head and its wide mouth, lined with razor-sharp jaws that can snap prey in half.

The worm will catch and kill its food by burrowing deep into sediment on the ocean floor, with only its sensitive bristles uncovered to detect movement. When it senses an unsuspecting creature, it springs from its hiding place and drags the victim back into its burrow.


Where Do Bobbit Worms Live?

Bobbit worms can survive in some of the planet's most extreme conditions. Although you may find them lurking in the darkest depths of the underwater world, they prefer stony coral reefs in warm marine waters.

Reefs provide the perfect landscape for worms to burrow and hide while crawling between small rocks for food.


What Is the Average Bobbit Worm Striking Distance?

bobbit worm
In case this image isn't perplexing and mind-boggling enough, keep in mind that bobbit worms can reach lengths up to 10 feet (3.1 meters). Thierry Eidenweil / Shutterstock

The snapping distance of a "sand striker" depends on its tail length and the sensitivity of its bristles. Like other ambush predators, the bobbit worm relies on speed, stealth and waiting for the right moment to hunt and kill its prey.

And if its creepy body and razor-sharp mouth weren't enough to fuel a month's worth of nightmares, its prominent bristles also contain enough poison to stop a fish in its tracks.


Although these antennae don't produce enough toxin to kill humans, people who have come into contact with a bobbit worm's mouth claim that it can produce a nasty sting that may leave the skin permanently numb afterward.

Where Did This Polychaete Worm Get Its Nickname?

Fair warning: This story gets graphic and proves that scientists have a dark sense of humor when naming animals.

bobbit worm
The bobbit worm has no problem waiting for the perfect moment to ambush its prey.
Jack Pokoj / Shutterstock

The least inappropriate theory regarding the creature's moniker suggests that the scientific name Eunice aphroditois is a subtle nod to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. A second possibility is the reference to the 1993 case of Lorena Bobbitt.


If you are not familiar with the Lorena Bobbitt story, here it is in a nutshell: An angry wife severed her husband's penis with a kitchen knife while he slept. The wife drove away and decided to throw the severed appendage out the car window.

Contrary to rumors that the evidence was eaten by a wild animal, Lorena Bobbit helped police find the appendage within the necessary timeframe for it to be surgically reattached. (We know some of you were wondering.)

According to BBC Earth, Eunice aphroditois got its nonscientific nickname in a 1996 field guide as a reference to the gruesome news story.