Well, it was unknown, because in a few hours it was identified. Those are colonies of tubificid worms, specifically T. tubifex, smaller than a tennis ball. They are not giant blobs about to eat humans, as the small video camera may suggest to the viewer. They are small clusters of hundreds of worms attached to the sewer pipes in Raleigh, North Carolina.
The identification, made by Dr. Timothy Wood on DeepSeaNews and also by Roberto Takata on Massa Crítica, has been confirmed by Ed Buchan, environmental coordinator at the Raleigh Public Utilities Department, to the local TV, News 14 Carolina.
According to Buchan, the tubifex worm colonies attach themselves to roots that work themselves into weak points in the pipes. Other staff members in the department have seen it before, although sightings aren’t particularly common.
Tubifex (video above) are harmless, commonly used as fish food, and it’s probable those in the sewer came directly from a domestic aquarium.
Their pulsating behavior, as if the whole colony was one bigger organism, is perhaps the most interesting feature. Schools of fishes and swarms of birds also exhibit a similar, beautiful collective behavior, well studied, but sticking to the disgustingly sticky, we may refer to slime mold.
One particular species, P. polycephalum, unicellular but with many nuclei, is even capable of “solving” a maze:
The secret is the food placed in the start and finish points – the slime mold converges to the shortest path between them. The research, published on Nature, earned the authors an IgNobel award last year.
P. polycephalum slime mold may be as intelligent as T. tubifex worms are dangerous, but now you know amoebas can solve mazes and fish food can be terrifying, at least when viewed on Youtube.
It’s worth noting that the horrid sewer creature was made popular by the io9 blog, from the same blog network that made the Montauk Monster popular a year ago. Gawker, your source for terrible unidentified creatures.
UPDATE: A couple more images of Tubifex that may make things even clearer (and nastier):
That’s yummy Tubifex worms sold in Japan. Case closed.
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