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In Photos: Weird Bristle Worm Calls Antarctica Home

Weird worm

Bristle worm, Eulagisca gigantea.

(Image credit: Smithsonian Museum of Natural History)

This odd-looking creature, Eulagisca gigantea, is just 8 inches long and swims in the chilly waters around Antarctica.

Bristles everywhere

Bristle worm, Eulagisca gigantea.

(Image credit: Smithsonian Museum of Natural History)

The organism belongs to the polycheate class of marine worms, which are also called bristle worms. The golden bristles that ring E. gigantea's body could be used for swimming, creeping along the seafloor or for defense.

Toothy ornament

Bristle worm, Eulagisca gigantea.

(Image credit: Smithsonian Museum of Natural History)

Its mouth is tipped with a sharp-toothed maw that makes E. gigantea look like Tim Burton's idea of a Christmas ornament.

Head? Mouth?

Bristle worm, Eulagisca gigantea.

(Image credit: Smithsonian Museum of Natural History)

This may look like the marine worm's head, but it's actually a retractable pharynx. When the worm feeds, a toothy section of this pharynx extends to a length of 2 inches (5 centimeters), according to a photo in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History's collection.

Bristle worm - 10

Bristle worm, Eulagisca gigantea.

(Image credit: Smithsonian Museum of Natural History)

When the pharynx is retracted, the worm has this appearance.

Scary scavenger?

Bristle worm, Eulagisca gigantea.

(Image credit: Smithsonian Museum of Natural History)

The worm's sharp teeth suggest that it chows on other animals or scavenges their remains.

Bristle worm - 1

Bristle worm, Eulagisca gigantea.

(Image credit: Smithsonian Museum of Natural History)

Here's another shot of the extended pharynx of the bristle worm living in Antarctica.

Defensive bristles

Bristle worm, Eulagisca gigantea.

(Image credit: Smithsonian Museum of Natural History)

Like other marine worms in this group, E. gigantea has several leg-like parapodia encircled with hard bristles. The bristles can make the animals difficult to swallow and, in some species, can hold venom, according to the Smithsonian.

Leggy

Bristle worm, Eulagisca gigantea.

(Image credit: Smithsonian Museum of Natural History)

A close-up of the hard golden bristles at the ends of E. gigantea's leggy structures.

Bristle worm - 8

Bristle worm, Eulagisca gigantea.

(Image credit: Smithsonian Museum of Natural History)

Scientists have described 8,000 species of polychaetes, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI).