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Bootlace worm (Lineus longissimus)

The bootlace worm is one of the longest known animals, with specimens up to 55 m (180 ft) long and up to 10 cm (3.9 in) wide being reported (2). It is usually 5-15 m long and 5-10 mm (0.20-0.39 in) wide. It has a flexible, unsegmented body and can easily stretch to much more than its usual length. The blackish-brown to black body has lighter (longitudinal) stripes, especially on the anterior dorsal surface. Epidermal cilia give it a purplish irridescence. The broad, spatulate, rectangular head has deep slits and ends in a pale colour tip. A marginal row of up to 20 deep set reddish-brown or black eyes may be present either side of the snout. Pink or red cerebral ganglia may be seen through the epidermis. The worm's mucus contains a relatively strong neurotoxin, which is used as a defence against predators (1). When handled it produces large amounts of thick mucus with a faint pungent smell.

The bootlace worm is the commonest nemertean (ribbon worm) found along the coasts of Britain. It can be found on sandy and muddy shores and in tide pools. It lives on the lower shore coiled in writhing knots beneath boulders and on muddy sand. It is often be found in rockpools entangled amongst Laminaria holdfasts or in rock fissures. In deeper sub-littoral areas, it occurs on muddy, sandy, stony or shelly substrata. It feeds using its eversible proboscis. It uses the cluster of sticky filaments at the end of the proboscis to immobilize prey. Young specimens range from dark olive brown to chocolate brown.


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