Did you know a worm can be pretty?



Fan Tube Worms or Feather Duster Tube Worm Rendering/Drawing (Prehistoric Ostracoderm Fish Observing Tube Worms)

fossils 125

Tube worm burrows attached to an extinct ammonite fossil shell

These little segmented worms secrete calcium carbonate to build a permanent protective tube. They attach themselves to any available surface such as rocks, clams or even other tubes of worms. Their fossil record dates back as far as the Silurian Period, 443 million years ago, but today they are quite common worldwide. The worm that lives in the tube is commonly called a feather duster or fan worm with a crown of feathery tentacles that it uses to strain food out of the water. Therein lies the tube worm beauty. Many shells, living and fossilized, are encrusted with feather duster tube worms and sometimes completely overgrows its host with a large mass of tubes.


Tube Worms Encrusted On Clam Shell


Tube Worms Can Show Off an Attractive Crown of Feathers

It’s true; they can be real pretty as you’ll notice from the photo samples below and most assuredly they were in the past as well. Today, there are at least two families of tube worms that show off a colorful, attractive crown of feathery plumes. But if you think you can go outside and dig them up, you would be sadly mistaken because they are all salt-water marine varieties.

Their fluffy crowns come in many different shapes and arrangements. One type resembles a Christmas tree, while another type looks almost like peacock feathers, as their names suggests.  The breakdown of their taxonomy explains a lot about them which I believe you’ll find very interesting.


Feather Duster Tube Worm

Feather Duster Tube Worm (Photo from Wikipedia)

Feather Duster Tubeworm (photo by Wikipedia)

Feather Duster Tubeworm (photo by Wikipedia)


Kingdom:  Animalia

Phylum:     Annelid (means ringed one) Large group of segmented worms from 17,000 species ranging in size from microscopic to 3 meters long

Class:       Polychaeta  Generally marine group of annelid worms from 10,000 species; Each segment of the creature possesses a pair of outgrowths with bristles which help them hold on to objects. They have a well developed head with two to four eyes and antennas. They can be found worldwide and withstand the coldest and hottest temperatures known on the  planet. From this group of annelids, they can be predators, herbivores, filter feeders, scavengers or parasites.

Order:         Canalipalpata  Bristle-footed or Fan-headed tube worms

Suborder:   Sabellida Sedentary marine worms that secrete calcium carbonate tubes

Family 1:     Sedentary marine tube worms where the head is mostly concealed by feathery branches. They reinforce their tubes with sand and bits of shell. They tend to be common in the ocean intertidal zones around the world.

See Feather Dusters above from this family: Sabellidae; and below, Sabella, pavonina (Peacock Tube Worm)


Peacock Tubeworm (photo by Wikipedia)

Peacock  “Feather Duster” Tubeworm (photo by Wikipedia)


Family 2:  Serpulidae  Differs from family of Sabellidae worms primarily by a specialized operculum, a cone shaped plug that often resembles a trumpet which blocks the tube entrance when the worms withdraw into their tubes i.e. Spirobranchus, giganteus (Christmas Tree Worm)

Genus:  Serpula  (Can rapidly retract into its tube, is typically red, orange, or pink with transverse white strands. Can be found in shallow intertidal zones to deep depths up to 800 meters deep.

Species: vermicularis (Fan Tube Worm) The tube can be curved but not spiraled. 


Fanworm Tubeworm (photo by Wikipedia)

Below: Genus: Spirobranchus,  Species: S. giganteus (Christmas Tree Tube Worm) named for its double spiraled plume of feathers and shape resembling a Christmas tree. They display a wide variety of colors

Christmas Tree Tubeworm (photo by Wikipedia)

Christmas Tree Tubeworm (photo by Wikipedia)

Interesting Side Note:

A resent scientific study discovered tube worms living in the cold, calm depths in the Gulf of Mexico have surprisingly long life spans, especially compared to their cousins living in hot and active environments, according to a paper published in the February 2000 issue of the journal Nature by a Penn State research team.

The hydrocarbon-seep cold climate tube worms they studied take from 170 to 250 years to grow two meters long, while the hydrothermal-vent hot climate tube worms grow well over a meter in just one year.



2 thoughts on “Did you know a worm can be pretty?

  1. Hey. Terrific pics–and intelligent content.
    I would like to use some of your pics for an exhibition (2013-2014) at the Saugatuck-Douglas Museum (at Mt. Baldhead) and History Center (Old School House, Douglas).
    Could you give me a shout back? I can be more specific about what pics. –eg. erosion at Pier Cove. Great.
    thanks thanks
    p.s. I see you got some good use of of my Simmons pics from the Simmons exhibit at the SCA.

    • Hi Jim, of course, yes, to using some of my pics! Would love to hear more about the exhibition! Will get in touch with you. You must be referring to the articles I wrote on hubpages. The old pics from the SDHS added a lot of interest to the article about Oval Beach and people really seemed to like them. Provided a link to SDHS there. Many thanks, Kathi

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