When a Texas angler reeled in something from the Gulf of Mexico at Port Isabel, she wouldn’t have hoped it to be something dangerous.
Alyssa Ramirez and her mother thought some seaweed had got entangled onto their fishing gear. But when it started moving a little, they understood it was best left alone; neither of them had ever seen anything like the 3-inch creature with needles sticking out writhing around.
“At first glance I thought I snagged some seaweed,” Ramirez told The Sun. “Then I laughed because that was definitely not a fish, nor seaweed,”
The only thing the angler could compare it to was “an oversized earthworm ready for combat.”
Being a marine life enthusiast, Ramirez’s curiosity was definitely piqued. “I was extremely curious about it […] so I decided to record it and snap a few pictures,” she said.
After Ramirez took some photos of the alien-looking creature and sent them to Texas Parks & Wildlife, the bristly creature was identified as a bearded fireworm, named for its painful sting.
According to Science and the Sea, a fireworm usually “gently scuttles across the ocean floor,” but when it is threatened, just like the specimen that Ramirez caught was, it forms a “protective halo” by flaring out its bristles that can inject a powerful neurotoxin.
“Anything that ignores the bristles receives a painful sting,” the website noted, adding that the injured area hurts like it’s on fire, and the sensation “can last for hours.”
(Courtesy of Alyssa Ramirez)
The fireworm usually prefers to eat coral, but it also feasts on pieces of dead marine organisms, such as the squid that Ramirez used as bait. The angler was smart to avoid getting too close to her catch.
“Luckily I didn’t have to touch it because it let go of my bait,” Ramirez told USA Today/For the Win Outdoors. “By the way it moved and the red colors it had, I knew not to touch it.”
The short video that Ramirez took has captivated many viewers, receiving over 600,000 views on Facebook. Many were terrified by the creature’s appearance. “I will officially never go near the water on the coast again. Ever,” commented one social media user.
Since the video only showed the fireworm moving around on the pier, some viewers were concerned that it might not survive. Texas Parks & Wildlife responded that “the species can survive for a short period out of the water as long as it doesn’t get too hot or too dry.”
Talking to USA Today/For the Win Outdoors, Ramirez said that she placed the fireworm on the rail of the pier, and after wiggling around for a few minutes, “it then fell into the water by itself.”
The whole experience was a special one for Ramirez; she told The Sun that she hopes it will bring curiosity for those “who love and enjoy adventures.”
At the same time, the incident also propelled her to brief internet fame.
“Now when I Google my name + ‘Fire Worm’ this comes out!!” she wrote on Instagram. “I was just enjoying my vacation.”