NY - Parasitic worms in your shellfish lead a creepy but popular lifestyle

If you’re an oyster lover, seeing a shaggy worm slither across your appetizer is revolting – even though such worms are harmless to people. An internet search using the keywords “oyster” and “worm” will bring up a large cache of images, each one less palatable than the next.

If you’re an oyster lover, seeing a shaggy worm slither across your appetizer is revolting – even though such worms are harmless to people. An internet search using the keywords “oyster” and “worm” will bring up a large cache of images, each one less palatable than the next.

As a biologist, I study invasive species including these mud blister worms. Despite their high gross-out factor, their parasitic lifestyles are fascinating. While parasites do cause harm to their hosts, they are also a crucial piece of the planet’s ecosystem.

Shell-boring worms

Mud blister worms belong to a larger group of segmented worms, collectively known as polychaetes. “Poly” means many and “chaete” means bristles in ancient Greek. Mud blister worms are one of many species that burrow into the shells of animals like oysters, abalone and scallops, where they spend their entire adult life.

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