The bearded fireworm (Hermodice carunculata) is a type of marine bristleworm belonging to the Amphinomidae family, native to the tropical Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.
Bearded fireworms are usually 15 centimetres in average length, but can reach up to 30 centimetres.
Its colors are varied and range from greenish, to yellowish, to reddish, grayish through white with a pearly glow. The body consists of 60 to 150 identical segments separated from each other by a thin white line and protected by cuticles. Each segment has a pair of parapodia, a structure for locomotion, clusters of stinging white bristles, and red or orange gills all in bilateral position. The anterior part of the worm can be recognized by small growths, called caruncle, which have the same color of the gills on the first four segments. The mouth is ventral and is located on the second segment. The head is shown on the first segment and includes the eyes and other sensory organs.
This fireworm is found in many marine living environments such as corals, rocks, mud, sand, posidonia, and on drifting wood as well as port infrastructure in shallow water from the surface to 40 meters deep.
The bearded fireworm is a voracious predator and feeds on dead or decaying organisms and coral polyps.
The bearded fireworm is a slow creature, and is not considered a threat to humans unless touched by a careless swimmer. The bristles, when flared, can penetrate human skin, injecting a powerful neurotoxin and producing intense irritation and a painful burning sensation around the area of contact. The sting can also lead to nausea and dizziness. This sensation lasts up to a few hours, but a painful tingling can continue to be felt around the area of contact.
If you want to see a Bearded Fireworm in its natural habitat, let us know and we can point a few out on your next dive trip!