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Related FAQs: Worms, Featherdusters 1, Featherdusters 2, Tubeworms 3, Tubeworm ID 1Featherduster ID 2, Featherduster ID 3, Featherduster ID 4, & Tubeworm Behavior, Tubeworm Compatibility, Tubeworm Selection, Tubeworm System, Tubeworm Feeding, Tubeworm Disease, Tubeworm Reproduction, Worm IdentificationPolychaete Identification, Worm IDs 1, Worm IDs 2, Worm IDs 3, Worm IDs 4, Worm IDs 5, Worm IDs 6, Worm IDs 7, Worm IDs 8,

Related Articles: Polychaete Worms, Worm Diversity, Nematodes: Roundworms

/A Diversity of Aquatic Life

Feather Dusters, Tube-Dwelling Sedentariate Polychaete Worm Diversity, part IV

Sedentariate Polychaetes part I, part II, part III,

To: Errantiate (i.e. Non-tubiculous) Polychaetes (many known to hobbyists as "Bristleworms"


By Bob Fenner


Family Spionidae:

Polydorella prolifera Augener 1914. A Spionid that distributes itself in a seemingly orderly fashion on the substrate. Here on a sponge in S. Sulawesi.

Enough of this taxonomic introduction. Did you already know this stuff about these critters? Onto the captive use info.


You want these spiffy worms in your marine system, reef? Sure you do. They're generally hardy, easy to keep, interesting and gorgeously beautiful! Besides, they're cheap (relatively for marine livestock) and maybe even free, gratis with "live rock". You can buy or possibly collect them yourself. These families are worldwide in shallow tropical to temperate seas. What to look for? First of all, vital signs! Are their crowns in evidence most of the time? Do they quickly respond to motion, shade, touch by complete retraction? For "leather" and sandy type tube worms is the tube complete? That is, is the base end closed, the outer margin clean and the body of the tube not torn? If possible get worms with a good portion of the rock, etc. they were attached to/with.

How do the other specimens offered appear? Both Serpulid and Sabellids bear a pair of large mucus-producing pads that rotate and lay down a mucous coating on the inner surface of the tube, building and re-building the upper lip much like a rope-pottery making technique in healthy specimens.

The general co-factor questions apply> What are they feeding? How often? How? What is the specific gravity of the system water the specimens are in? How long have they had them? Where are they from? Such worms hail from the Philippines, Hawaii, Mexico, Florida, California... I shy on the side of buying "newer" stock; to avoid the detrimental effects of probable starving since collection.


 Tube and Fan worms do fine in high quality natural and synthetic water of low to medium organic load (aging), any given reasonable range of temperature. Higher salinities are appreciated as per most invertebrates kept.

Vigorous water movement is helpful for aeration, excretion, circulation of food items... Placing them in a couple of inches of fine silica or coral sand, or betwixt rock/coral rubble is generally acceptable.

Territoriality is a non-question as long as sufficient food, circulation and gaseous exchange is available.

Introduction/acclimation is similarly simple. If avoidable, do not lift specimens from the water into the air. The water supports their bodies and trapped gas can be a problem.

Predator/prey relations: some invertebrates and fishes can and may eat your worms. Wrasses, some basses, triggers, shrimps, crabs et al. will try out most anything as you know. Healthy worms are quick to pull back into their tubes, but... Oh and they themselves will greedily filter out any particle, plant, animal or mineral of appropriate size which brings us to

Foods & Feeding: 

Daily to a few times weekly offering of live (brine shrimp nauplii, rotifers...) or prepared foods (store bought or home-made) is recommended. Clam "juice", other "meaty" foods frappe'ed in a blender or smooshed with spoons or other tools applied in the general area (with a syringe, turkey baster device...) with most all particulate filtration switched off for the duration (@ an hour?). Other times and places I've plugged appropriate set-ups for intended such systems, including the use of timers or temporary switches to cut down on fouling from feeding... 

A very nice examination of the structure and behavior of feeding in these two families can be found in most invertebrate zoology texts. See Barnes below.


Those faithful readers of these wanna be formula survey pieces might have noticed an oversight re repro. Nay, twas intentional. These worms have bizarre and varied modes. As a boy in the P.I. I was familiar with a practice of collecting certain "native" marine foods with baskets, timing our efforts with the tides and lighting. Some time later, it's dawned on me we were collecting (and eating) epitokes of polychaete worms. Believe me, I'm not making this up; some species basically break in half, the rear portion forming it's own "head", swims off and reproduces in the upper water column.

Some Conclusion: 

Tubiculous or tube-bearing polychaete worms are common fixtures in most shallow water marine environments. They make for colorful, hardy captive material when selected and collected appropriately.

One word of caution re collecting your own. Avoid intertidal specimens. These generally fare poorly in constantly submersed conditions. 


Marine Hitchhiker/Critter ID (Maughmer, Toonen, Tompkins)

Barnes, Robert D., 1974. Invertebrate Zoology. W. B. Saunders.

Kaufman, Les, 1973. Worms. Marine Aquarist 4 (4), 1973.

Maier, Robert von, 1991. Bristle Worms. Discover Diving. Sept./Oct. 1991

Mancini, Alessandro, 1990. Tropical Tubeworms in the Marine Aquarium. FAMA 8/90.

Schlais, James F., 1981. Bristle Power. FAMA 1/81.

Walls, Jerry G., 1980. Tubeworms. TFH 3/80

To: Errantiate (i.e. Non-tubiculous) Polychaetes (many known to hobbyists as "Bristleworms"  

Bigger PIX:
The images in this table are linked to large (desktop size) copies. Click on "framed" images to go to the larger size.

Sedentariate Polychaetes part I, part II, part III,

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