Fireworms common in Hawaii, but pack painful sting

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Korie-Ann Fujishige was enjoying an evening walk on a North Shore reef when she stumbled upon a slimy, slithery creature. She snapped a photo of the mysterious animal and sent it to KHON2.

“What the picture shows is an animal called bristle worm or more commonly known as the fireworm,” Waikiki Aquarium Director Andrew Rossiter said.

Rossiter says there are three fireworm species found in Hawaiian waters and all three can be a nightmare for hobbyists.

“Once you put them in the aquarium, the fireworms come out at night, decimates your collection,” Rossiter said. “It’s someone’s worst nightmare because once they’re in there, they’re very, very hard to get rid of.”

Fireworms have no natural predators and some can grow up to four to six inches.

“They’re on every reef in Hawaii, but they live under rocks and inside the reef structure. But at night they come out to feed and they feed on small invertebrate, corals, anything like that,” Rossiter said.

These fireworms are only a couple of months old, but don’t let their size fool you.

“These are actually pretty small. They’re about an inch in size, but even something that size can sting you, causing intense irritation and pain,” Rossiter said.

The bigger ones can cause numbness when they sting. One was recently spotted at Hanalei Bay.

“The bristles are a defense mechanism against predators. But unfortunately, if humans are to touch it, the spines or the bristles will stick into the skin, break off, and inject a neurotoxin — a nerve poison,” Rossiter said.

During certain times of the year, these nasty critters surface in big numbers.

“Hundreds and thousands of them come out to breed. And instead of trolling along the bottom as they usually do, they swim up to the water’s surface and mate,” Rossiter said.

Anyone who spots one in the ocean is urged not to touch it.

“They’re pretty to look at, but beauty can be deceptive,” Rossiter said.

If they show up in your aquarium, it’s best to remove them immediately.

“Think centipede when you see them,” Rossiter said.

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