A man from the UK recently sent in this image of a small, thin, red-striped worm found on the rim of his toilet bowl. According to him, the worm is 1cm (0.39-inches) in length and was found after his son had used the toilet.
Our reader is concerned that this worm may be parasitic, but rest assure, we have identified this as a species of blood worm, which are not parasitic. ‘Blood worm’, although sounding like a rather grim name, is an umbrella term for a number of species of annelids, meaning they are related to other segmented worms such as earthworms and leeches. This one in particular, given its location, would most likely be a tubifex worm (tubifex tubifex), otherwise known as a tubificid worm, sludge worm, or sewage worm. They can grow up to one-inch long.
Tubifex worms feed on bacteria in stagnant, waste water, which explains why it was found in our reader’s toilet water. These critters colonize pipe systems in large groups and are able to live under water as they are oligochaetes. This means they produce erythrocruorin, which is a large protein that carries oxygen, similar to hemoglobin, which humans produce. In simpler terms, tubifex worms produce an oxygen-carrying protein that allows them to sustain in low-oxygen conditions! It is also this protein which gives them their red color, just like it is hemoglobin which gives red blood cells their color.
Hence, given the tubifex’s diet and natural habitat, we think it would have come up from the pipes, rather than from this man’s son’s stomach. This is also supported by the fact that they are not parasitic in nature, so our reader needs not worry about parasitism. However, if at any point he has reasonable cause to believe his son or anyone else may have a parasite, then we encourage him to seek a medical professional and/or parasite specialist to get an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment. As we are not medical professionals, we are not equipped to give medical advice.
Regarding the situation at hand, we recommend that our reader does a deep clean of his toilet to rid his pipes of any other tubifex worms. Additionally, making sure that he cleans his toilet regularly (once a week!) will prevent more colonies of these worms from manifesting.
In conclusion, the red-striped worm our reader found in his toilet was a tubifex worm. These creatures are neither harmful nor parasitic to humans, so our reader needs not fear! Regularly cleaning his toilet should keep these worms at bay.