SeaHelp News

Can cause burning pain: Fireworm is currently occurring more frequently on Croatian beaches

The bearded fireworm (Hermodice carunculata), sometimes just called “fireworm”, has so far only been observed in the Mediterranean in southern Italy and off Malta. Now it is also appearing on Croatian beaches.

The fireworm, a so-called polychaete, owes its German name to the fact that its bristles (chaetae) break off easily when touched and release a poisonous secretion. If they penetrate the human skin, they cause a burning pain that can last for several days.

The bearded fireworm reaches a maximum length of 30 centimetres. The body can have over 100 segments. The colouring of the species ranges from greenish, brownish to reddish. The segment boundaries are recognisable as light stripes. The mouth of the bearded fireworm is a developed shaborgan, which is provided with sharp and protruding ridges.


Croatia: Fireworm spotted on Croatian beaches.
© Kolevski.V | Adobe Stock


Originally, the worm comes from the coast of Antigua, an island in the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean. It lives on all hard bottoms such as rocky shores and coral reefs as well as between seagrass and can be found from shallow water to a depth of around 30 metres. At the same time, the species has also been sighted in the Mediterranean and off the coasts of West Africa as far as the Canary Islands.


Croatia: Fireworm spotted on Croatian beaches.
© Kolevski.V | Adobe Stock


The fireworm is currently also appearing on Croatian beaches

The problem: So far, it has only been found on the southern Italian Mediterranean coast, but now it is increasingly appearing on Croatian beaches, reports the blog

Experts from the National Institute of Oceanography and Applied Geophysics (OGS) in Trieste and Professor Maja Krzelj, head of the Department of Marine Studies at the University of Split, are quoted in the article as saying that the fireworm is currently increasing “massively” there.

The carnivore moves slowly; the most frequent human contact with the worm is caused by careless walking in the water, where bathers step on the animal. The spines are poisonous, the blog continues, and contact can be “extremely painful”.

After contact, those affected should remove the bristles with tweezers; a doctor should be consulted in the event of complications

The bristles are so fine that they are often difficult to recognise. The poison contained in the spines can cause inflammatory and allergic reactions.

According to Peter Schupp, a marine biologist at the University of Oldenburg, such an allergy “often also manifests itself with other natural toxins”, according to Schupp: “So anyone who is allergic to bee or wasp stings, for example, or has ever reacted to jellyfish or coral, could also be susceptible to fireworm – and should be particularly careful”.

After contact, the blog advises that the bristles should be removed with tweezers or a strong adhesive strip if possible; the affected areas should then be rinsed well with water. If complications arise, those affected should consult a doctor immediately.

Bathers on Croatian beaches this summer should therefore take a close look at where they step into the water, bathing shoes may help, and children should be supervised more closely when bathing.

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