Creepy 'Smiling' Worm Pulled from Bottom of the Sea

Russian fisherman Roman Fedortsov has a habit of pulling ghoulish and bizarre creatures from the deep sea. And his recent trawl did not disappoint: Fedortsov recently captured an eerily "smiling" sea worm.

In a video Fedortsov posted on Twitter last week, the creature's clown-smile turns creepy as it seemingly morphs inside out in time with an uncanny, high-pitched noise added by the fisherman. (This is not a noise the creature is making.)

"If the creature could scream, it would scream like this," Fedortsov wrote in the post.

Mark Siddall, a curator at the American Museum of Natural History's Division of Invertebrate Zoology, said he doesn't see the smiling expression in the video — and what we perceive as a smile is likely to do more with the camera angle than the anatomy of the creature. [In Photos: Spooky Deep-Sea Creatures]

Smiling or not, the worm in the video is a polychaete, or marine bristle worm; and more specifically, it's probably in the family of nereids, according to Siddall. It's unclear what specific species this creature belongs to.

Bristle worms are so named because they have small bristles called chaetae all around their bodies, which help them swiftly move around, burrow, tube, crawl and swim, according to the National History Museum of Los Angeles County.

What appears to be the worm's "head" is, in fact, a retractable pharynx that, along with its jaws, extends to grab food, according to a previous Live Science report. When this pharynx is tucked into the worm's body, its face looks smiley, at least in the recent video.

Polychaetes appear in many different sizes and shapes and live in a broad range of habitats from hydrothermal vents to coral reefs, Live Science previously reported. So, these smiley, wiggly worms are all over the marine habitat, though perhaps sadly, are not actually smiling. 

Originally published on Live Science.

Yasemin Saplakoglu
Staff Writer

Yasemin is a staff writer at Live Science, covering health, neuroscience and biology. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, Science and the San Jose Mercury News. She has a bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Connecticut and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.