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News of the Weird

Wednesday July 17, 2002

Nuclear worms
threaten aquatic life


GAMBRILLS, Md. — First, there was the northern snakehead from China. Now, another potentially harmful alien from Asia is rearing its ugly head: the Vietnamese nuclear worm. 

Anglers around the Chesapeake Bay are using the pink worms, which can stretch up to 5 feet long, as bait. The worms are fat, cheap and juicy, and need no refrigeration even in the heat of summer. 

“They’re no wonder worm,” said Mike Gripkey, company manager for Maryland’s major supplier, Mike’s Wholesale Bait in Gambrills. “But a guy comes into a bait shop and he can spend $7 for a dozen bloodworms or $7 for a big, fat nuke worm that’ll last a couple of days. The nuke worm is more meat for the buck.” 

Biologists fear that the nuclear worms, when dumped from bait buckets into the bay, could harm native aquatic life and humans. 

Preliminary tests conducted this spring by the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center indicate the worms and the material they are packed in contain three species of the bacterium Vibrio, one of which attacks oysters and causes serious illness in people. 

“These worms are spooky,” said Julie Thompson, a biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “I use surgical gloves every time I touch them, and I scrub up afterward.”