Swarms of hooked-jaw marine worms spawning in South Carolina waters are a natural occurrence and beachgoers have nothing to fear, state officials said Tuesday.
Officials with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources are reassuring beachgoers the worms pose no threat to them after the agency posted a video of the marine animals on Facebook earlier this month. The video was shared over 200 times and has more than 53,000 views.
The clamworms, which usually live on the seafloor, change into reproductive forms called epitokes as they swarm, according to the post. It also stated that beachgoers might not want to swim with them because of their hooked jaws.
In a Tuesday Facebook post, the department said it was disappointed that some national news outlets had made the swarms of worms out to be “frightening.”
Erin Weeks, a department spokesperson, said the DNR wanted to clarify that the worms are not dangerous.
“They don’t pose a threat to people and are only interested in reproduction during swarms,” Weeks said. “After releasing sperm and eggs into the water column, the clamworms die and the life cycle begins anew with the fertilized eggs.”
Marine worms are significant to the food web because many fish and other marine animals eat them, according to Tuesday’s Facebook post.
The phenomenon occurs every year, but beachgoers are not likely to see them. They don’t last long and happen under new or full moons when water temperatures are cold, Weeks said.
The swarms happen every year at the department’s Marine Center on Charleston Harbor, she said, adding they have also been spotted in Murrells Inlet and Georgia and can occur anywhere there is a clamworm habitat.
“The spawning of clamworms in the spring is one of those fascinating seasonal events that makes life along the coast so interesting – not something to fear,” the department said in Tuesday’s post.