The bobbit worm

In this poem by Theodoridas from the Greek Anthology, a strange sea creature is described – a giant sea millipede.

Μυριόπουν σκολόπενδραν ὑπ᾽ Ὠρίωνι κυκηθεὶς
πόντος Ἰαπύγων ἔβρας᾽ ἐπὶ σκοπέλους:
καὶ τόδ᾽ ἀπὸ βλοσυροῦ σελάχευς μέγα πλευρὸν ἀνῆψαν
δαίμοσι βουφόρτων κοίρανοι εἰκοσόρων.

The sea, being stirred up at the time Orion was in the sky, threw up a thousand-legged millipede onto the rocks of Iapygai; the captains of the twenty-oared trading boats dedicated this great flank from the bristling selachos.

Anth. Gr. 6.222

Orion is a bright constellation, which rises just after the summer solstice, and is usually followed by storms.

Iapygia is an area in South East Italy in the heel.

Selachos usually refers to a cartiligenous fish – a shark or a ray – but here probably refers to the cartilage-like appearance of this animal. It. It may also be derived from selas which means ray so here may refer to its gleaming appearance.

βλοσυρός which I have translated as bristling can either mean bristling or frightening. Here I think it refers to the bristling appearance of all the legs.

I have a possible identification for this creature Eunice Roussaei. As I understand it smaller specimens are used as bait fish even now. Larger specimens have been found. In this article, the phosphorescent nature of the specimens in the Adriatic may be why Theodoridas refers to it as Selachos as if coming from selas meaning ray.

Extract from article on the bobbit wormbobbit worm

These “Giant Eunicids” were called “Bobbit-worms” by an underwater photographer alluring to the regretful incident of the USA Bobbit family, where the wife cut off her husband’s penis, and because either the widely open jaw pieces resemble scissors, or because the exposed portion resembles an erect penis. The name has been adopted by Internet sites and one of such underwater photographs was used for the cover of a recent book on Australian polychaetes. Similar species living in the Adriatic Sea are called verme de Rimini or vermara, and some other ones living in the Caribbean Sea have apparently not yet received any common names, but they might be retrieved under the same general term of “Bobbit worms”. It is noteworthy that the Adriatic Sea specimens are very appreciated by fishermen because they are bloody and phosphorescent (Anonymous 2005, 2010); because of their extraction due to the same reasons, similar eunicid species are currently protected from unregulated harvesting in Brazil (Carrera-Parra et al. 2008).

And this discussion mentions specimens as long as three meters being found in the Adriatic.

http://www.bio.net/bionet/mm/annelida/2008-May/002959.html

And here is a picture

IMG_0618

Note if it is not exactly this species it may be a related species -possibly now extinct and then such a rarity it was thought worth dedicating to the gods.

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One Response to The bobbit worm

  1. Pingback: More giant millipedes | platosparks

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