Newly discovered ‘demon fire’ worms are the stuff of nightmares

Scientists have discovered a new genus of glow-in-the-dark worms they call ‘demon fire’ worms. The worms are part of a family of worms known as bristle worms, and researchers say they resemble the ancient demons of Japanese folklore, inspiring their new names.

The three newfound species, named Polycirrus onibi, Polycirrus aoandon, and Polycirrus ikeguchii are found in the shallow waters of Japanese rivers and streams. The blueish and purple light the glow-in-the-dark worms give off is what originally inspired the researchers to name them after ancient Japanese demons.

A paper on the new discovery is featured in the journal Royal Society Open Science. The overall family these worms belong to — bristle worms — are known for their coarse and sometimes bristles that cover them. Now researchers want to determine how the glow-in-the-dark worms create their bioluminescent appearance and then use that to develop a man-made type of bioluminescence.

Polychaeta Smooth tube worm
A Polychaeta Smooth tube worm is another type of bristle worm. Image source: Alexey / Adobe

Bristle worms like these new demon fire worms have existed since the Cambrian period, over 505 million years ago. They have survived at least five different extinction events, researchers estimate. As such, these glow-in-the-dark worms are from a well-established family that has undoubtedly evolved quite a bit over the centuries, giving way for new species like these newly discovered ones.

Polycirrus worms are known by the clump of tentacles that stretch out from their faces, enabling them to sift through river sediment while looking for food. These tentacles help give these glow-in-the-dark worms their nightmarish appearance, and finding three new species is exciting for the researchers involved. You can see images of the new worms in a statement from the researchers.

If scientists can learn how different creatures create their bioluminescence, the hope is that they’ll be able to recreate it in new life science technologies. Hopefully, these recreations will prove helpful in life science tech and medical advances the scientists make down the line. Thankfully these kinds of worms aren’t dangerous to the environment as invading species like the Asian jumping worm.

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