The internet is a strange and wonderful place, where we can discover bizarre creatures we never knew existed. One such creature is the ribbon worm, specifically Gorgonorhynchus repens, which has gained internet fame thanks to a video of it vomiting up a milky, living tree onto a person’s hand. But what is this creature, and why does it do that?
Gorgonorhynchus repens is a rare and mysterious creature that belongs to the phylum Nemertea, also known as ribbon worms. These invertebrates are aggressive predators that live in shallow marine waters and feed on mollusks, snails, and even other sea worms. What makes Gorgonorhynchus repens so unique is its very rare branching proboscis, which it shoots out from a specialized port to capture prey. It then drags the captured prey into its mouth and swallows it whole.
But the proboscis also serves as a defensive mechanism. When threatened, the worm casts out its proboscis to try and deter predators. The milky substance seen in the video is actually the worm’s hunting gear, and when it comes into contact with a predator or in this case, a human, it can cause the worm to become stressed and convulse.
Ribbon worms, in general, are quite mysterious to scientists, and there are only a handful of species with a branched proboscis. Scientists believe that this rare anatomical trait arose independently several times. They are also scarce, and even in well-researched areas like Bermuda, they have only been discovered a handful of times. Furthermore, ribbon worms leave virtually no trace in the fossil record, making it difficult for scientists to establish how recent or ancient they are.
However, scientists like Sebastian Kvist, associate curator of invertebrates at the Royal Ontario Museum, are working to solve the mysteries surrounding ribbon worms. Kvist specializes in Nemertea and hopes to understand the genetic relationships among the 500 or so Heteronemertea ribbon worms. He is also studying how ribbon worms are able to survive in different environments.
While ribbon worms may be bizarre and mysterious creatures, they are still fascinating to study. Who knows what other secrets they hold waiting to be discovered?