Worms are usually not poisonous – even many of the ones that sting. It is rare to come across a worm that stings outside of tropical regions, but if you do, chances are it is a bristle worm. Bristle worms may release “poison” when it stings, but the poison is not harmful to humans, only other very small animals.
Bristle worms live in trees, bark, sand, and reef in tropical areas around the world. Some bristle worms are errant, meaning, they move along the shoreline and shallow water, while others are tube-binding. Tube-binding worms build a permanent tube or home along the shoreline flats.
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Bristle worms belong to the family Polychaete. The common name for bristle worm is Acropora Crab. Bristle worms range in size from 1inch up to a staggering 20 inches. The majority of small bristle worms are orange in color with a two-tone appearance. Large bristle worms are usually gray or brownish in color. Like most worms, bristle worms are nocturnal, so they are not usually around during the day.
Bristle worms will only “bite” or sting if provoked. While their sting may cause some discomfort, the poison left behind rarely causes any damage. The bite may cause burning, redness, inflammation, pain or numbness. The bite may be treated by:
*Applying vinegar (topical acetic acid) or isopropyl alcohol.
*Removing the bristles with tweezers or adhesive tape. Ouch!
*Taking 1-2 acetaminophen every 4 hours and/or 1-2 ibuprofen every 6-8 hours for pain.
*If severe inflammation and a burning sensation develop, apply hydrocortisone cream 3 times per day.
*If pus, redness, or heat are present, these are signs of infection. Apply topical antibiotic ointment.
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To prevent infection, talk to your doctor about taking antibiotics. Only a doctor can recommend the right antibiotics. If infection develops, continue antibiotics for at least 5 days after all signs of infection have cleared or as directed by your physician. Certain antibiotics cause sensitivity to the sun, so use a sunscreen with a minimum SPF 15 during treatment.
About Worms and Their Importance to the Planet
The majority of worms living on planet earth are not poisonous. However, some worms can be parasitic in nature. Some feed on the intestines of animals, including humans, while others destroy plants and crops. Overall, however, most worms, specifically earthworms, are crucial to the survival of plants, flowers, trees, and crops. Without them, the earth’s landscape and vital crops would suffer.
Earthworms help trees, plants, vegetables and fruits thrive by aerating the soil. When earthworms burrow through the soil, the tunnels allow air in to help plant roots breathe. Additionally, as earthworms digest organic matter, their bodies expel it and produce excrement that is rich in calcium, potassium, and phosphorus. Called castings, the nutrients enrich the soil to make plants happy. The earthworm castings also help the soil retain water. Moist soil helps the growth period of plant life.
For more information about bristle worms and earthworms, see: