The Ocean Is Full of Worms and Gonads and Monsters

Lynne Elkins’ previous work for The Toast can be found here.

Today, I am not here to talk to you about science*. Instead, I would like to share a truth that you may not have fully realized, which is that the ocean is a horrifying place full of monsters.

You might be thinking, “But I always wanted to be a marine biologist! I love dolphins!” And to be fair, dolphins can blow coordinated hunting bubbles and have names for each other and probably are much less prone to sexual assault than folks like to say. But most of the ocean is not made of dolphins, or even mammals. It is mostly full of worms.

Okay, fine, maybe not “mostly.” or “full.” But there are a lot of worms. Here, again, you might be saying, “But I wanted to be a marine biologist and study things other than charismatic megafauna! Marine worms are beautiful!” Sure, some of the worms have pretty colors and crazy fringes, which they obviously use as a glamour to fool gullible humans. But you are forgetting the most important thing: THEY ARE GIANT WORMS. And some of them look like this:


Less beautiful.

Don’t get me wrong: marine worms are fascinating. This is because monsters are terrible and fascinating. Consider, for example, the very famous Giant Tube Worms that live around deep sea volcanic vents. This is a 7 foot-long worm that can grow 5 feet in under two years, with no digestive tract, with which is red because it contains hemoglobin. In other words, it is a worm that nearly has blood that is taller than you and uses its mouth as its anus.

(These monstrous properties, of course, are the true reason to celebrate the 1991 discovery of the Tubeworm Barbecue.)

You might now be asking, “But what about non-worm things?” Sure. Let’s talk about some other creatures, like, say, echinoderms. Everyone likes starfish, right? Everything that isn’t hunted by starfish, I guess. Have you ever seen the inside of a sea urchin? I have, and please let me tell you about it: These alien monsters are almost completely hollow, except for a skinny intestinal tube that floats around inside their body, and the whole “Aristotle’s Lantern” skeleton mouth thing, which contains rasping teeth so hard they might be able to grind through rock (debated! these are things you debate about monsters.) The little hole at the top of the spiny shell is, in fact, the anus. Marine animals probably could be classed as horrifying simply based on the positions of their anuses. I would also like to address the whole “five-sided skeleton” thing, which, while interesting, is wrong and should not exist. Also, crinoids (sea lilies and feather stars) were echinoderms that reached a meter tall or more in the geologic past; and now we know that they are, in fact, still around, floating about or walking on their fronds like legs. I have touched them and seen YouTube and can confirm this is true. Summary: echinoderms are monsters.

Moving along: cephalopods, once the enormous monster predators of the oceans, are terrifyingly intelligent, curious, capricious thieves that can squeeze themselves through tiny holes and instantaneously mimic random objects (and to be fair, they still include some enormous predators, such as giant squid.) The mimic octopus takes cephalopod mimicry skills to terrifying heights. Blue-ringed octopods are some of the most venomous creatures on the planet, and they do bite humans. And the extreme deep-sea vampire squid (whose full latin name literally means “vampire squid of Hell”) is blood-red with “limpid, globular eyes,” can release a bioluminescent mucus into the water from its “writhing arms” which blinds opponents in a crazy light show that lasts up to 10 minutes, and can, you know, turn its own body inside out. Of course.

We have not yet discussed isopods. That is mostly because I wanted to delay the horror for myself. They are horrifying for many reasons, such as, for instance, what they look like:


Or this. Or this.

But those examples, while terrible in appearance, are not the worst isopods, which honor is reserved for the parasitic isopods. Those are the ones that attach themselves to the tongues of fish, causing the tongue to wither and fall off; they then take up permanent residence in their host fish’s mouth. Some live off whatever food the fish is eating, while others drink the fish’s own blood. Oh God. Why am I writing about this.

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