Scientists have spent years speculating about what kind of life forms might exist on distant planets – but some creatures right here on earth are stranger than most of us can imagine.
Gorgonorhynchus repens is a species of worm that lives in the shallows of the Pacific Ocean. The tiny creature feeds on small molluscs and other worms.
It spears its prey with a bizarre tree-shaped sticky tongue that looks more like something out of science fiction than science fact.
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The tiny animal, which usually only grows to a few inches in length is strange, rare, and mysterious—even to scientists. Biologist Sebastian Kvist, associate curator of invertebrates at the Royal Ontario Museum, explained to Mental Floss that Gorgonorhynchus also casts out its bizarre “net”when it feels threatened.
Describing a now-deleted video of the little creature trying to attack a human that was trying to pick it up, Kvist says its milky, tree-like probosci shoots over the man's hand.
And then the worm starts convulsing. “What we’re seeing is a very stressed worm that’s doing everything it can to try to get away from the situation that it’s in,” Kvist says.
The bizarre creature can even seem to “break apart” if picked by a predator – or a curious human.
“We’re not sure if it’s able to regenerate or not,” Kvist says,” but it doesn’t seem to be fatal to the worm to break like that—which is really interesting”.
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There are many other aspects of the little worm’s life cycle that are fascinating to scientists. It is rarely seen, and its soft, fragile body doesn’t make for good fossils which means we have no clear idea how ancient its lineage might be.
“That becomes a very problematic thing for trying to establish how recent or how ancient these guys are,” Kvist says.
Some of the little worm’s cousins are even more remarkable. Lineus longissimus may be the longest animal in earth, with some examples recorded as being over a hundred feet long.
“A lot of people think the blue whale is the largest animal in the world,” Kvist says. “Actually, a Nemertean is the longest animal in the world.”
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