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'Frenzy' of hook-jawed sea worms spotted swarming off South Carolina

The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources released video earlier this month showing a swarm of hooked jaw clamworms, a type of sea worm, off the state's coast. According to the department, the worms are predatory and its jaws are strong enough to break human skin and they swarm in coastal waters yearly when they morph into reproductive forms.

It’s a great time of year to enjoy the waters off Myrtle Beach, S.C. — as long as you don’t mind diving into a seething mass of hook-jawed, skin-piercing sea worms.

South Carolina’s Department of Natural Resources has released footage of thousands of young clamworms swarming in a Charleston harbour earlier this month, where they were drawn to the surface by the light of the April moon.

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The video shows thousands of fast-moving grey slivers darting across the surface of the water below a dock in South Carolina. It also shows wildlife officials scooping up some of the worms in a net and pouring one out into a bottle cap for a closer look.

The clamworms in the video are about the size of an adult’s pinky finger, with furry grey bodies, two pairs of eyes, a black tail and a head with two strong hooked jaws.

A clamworm is shown off the coast of South Carolina in this image from video.

A clamworm is shown off the coast of South Carolina in this image from video.

South Carolina Department of Natural Resources/Facebook

The clamworms spend most of their lives on the seafloor, but the young ones are drawn to the surface during the full and new moon each spring, according to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

“Their bodies morph into reproductive forms called ‘epitokes’ as they swarm in coastal waters,” the department wrote on Facebook. “You may not want to go swimming with epitokes, as clamworms do have a set of hooked jaws,” it added.

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The epitokes will grow into centipede-like sea worms that measure up to 91 centimetres (3 feet) long, but the creepy-crawly sea creatures typically do not rise to the surface of the water after they are fully grown, so you would not need to worry about encountering one while swimming.

The epitokes show up each year off South Carolina, officials say. And while they might be a spine-tingling sight for swimmers, they serve as an all-you-can-eat buffet for fish and birds in the area.

“It’s hard not to appreciate such an unusual coastal sight,” the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources said.

“Appreciate” might not be the right word for a swarm of wriggling sea worms, but it certainly is an unforgettable sight.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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