Friday 25 October 2013

Ice Cream Cone Worm

Image: Hans Hillewaert
Worm flavoured ice cream!

Ice Cream Cone Worms, also known as Trumpet Worms, get their name from the carefully constructed, cone shaped shell they live in. Take a close look at it. It's made out of thousands and thousands of tiny grains of sand, bits of snail shell and other little trinkets carefully glued together.

Image: Malcolm Storey
It's very fragile because it's composed of a single layer of sand all the way round. It must be such a delicate, time-consuming process that I can't blame them for cutting corners!

But what flavour of ice cream do you think is in this arts 'n' crafts cone? Vanilla? Chocolate? Neapolitan, because who can be bothered to choose?

Image: Hans Hillewaert
How about raspberry ripple?

Yeah... it's like that nightmare where you take off your shirt and there's exposed muscle and intestines instead of skin. It's the perennial fear.

Their abominable appearance may be why Ice Cream Cone Worms live not only in a shell, but buried head down in sand. All you can see on the surface is the open, back end of the cone poking up like the chimney of a subterranean factory.

Image: Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales
These polychaetes reach about 5 cm (2 in) long at most and can be found in shallow, marine waters all over the world. There are a whole bunch of species in the family Pectinariidae, which comes from the Latin pecten meaning "comb".

Image: Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales
This "comb" is an array of tough setae sticking out of their face and glistening with a kind of metallic sheen. They look like a set of brass Wolverine claws but they're only used to dig into soft sand. Which is good, because I bet they're vicious enough to allow the worm to burrow into flesh and make their ice cream cone out of human bones. It's the perennial fear.

Image: Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales
The setae curl at the end! Savage
Aside from the claws, the Ice Cream Cone Worm also has tentacles near its mouth for grabbing onto tiny edible detritus in the sand. Any sand they eat or dig into can pass right through their digestive system and out the other end, or else be moved up in the space between their body and cone. Either way, it leaves little mounds of sand behind them.

At least Some Ice Cream Cone Worms spend their earliest weeks of life floating around in the water as larvae. Much like humans, they begin covering themselves in mucus from an early age. Perhaps because they're a little embarrassed at having so many internal organs on display. Once they descend to the sea floor they can start attaching grains of sand to the mucus undercoat and disappearing head first underground.

Image: foto fitis, sytske dijksen
This is why I love worms! Such economy of body parts. Hard parts for digging, tentacles for building a home and catching food, and skin that's barely there at all. And it's wonderful to see that even ice cream has its dark, fleshy side!


Much thanks to Dear Reader Benjamin for opening my eyes to the horror that lies within the cone!


TexWisGirl said...

i do like their 'cones'. looks sort of like a weird sushi wrap.

Joseph JG said...

Yes, mosaic sushi wraps!

Daniel Berke said...

Those single-sand-grain-thick shells are amazing! And beautiful.

Joseph JG said...

I know! It's amazing!

Magia da Inês said...

¸.•°♪♬♫º° ·.
Passei para uma visitinha.
São criaturas únicas e exóticas.

Bom fim de semana!
Beijinhos do Brasil.
°•.¸♬♫° ·.

Joseph JG said...

That's one way of putting it!

Maple--wolf said...

Wow...the case looks just like a caddisfly case.

Joseph JG said...

Yes! It's quite odd.