Feather Duster Worm

The feather duster worm, also known as Sabellidae by its scientific name, is a common name for a family of sedentary tube worms that can easily be found in intertidal areas in most of the world’s seas and oceans. These worms are made unique by their multi-colored crown of tubes that contain their feeding appendages. Their name is derived from the shape of the crown, which faithfully resembles a feather duster. There are a total of 44 different species belonging to the Sabellidae family, some of the most well-known including Glomerula, Eudistylia and Sabella.

Sabellidae Characteristics and the Biology of the Feather Duster Worm

The species belonging to the family Sabellidae are marine polychaete tube worms that can vary greatly in size, shape and color, depending on the species. The genus Sabellastarte, for example, faithfully mimics most other species, and its feather duster-like appearance is clearly distinguished on the reef. Other species, like Glomerula, differ from all other Sabellidae and can only be found in specific areas. The worms can grow up to over 2.5 inches in length, and their fan-shaped clusters of radioles can be seen from afar. There are a total of eight thoracic body segments featuring hooked ventral chaetae and dorsal capillaries. The crown is made up of two distinct fan-shaped cluster that open up when the worm is under water.

Unique Facts about Feather Duster Worms

One of the more curious particularities of feather duster worms is that they have been around since the early Jurassic period, their earliest fossils dating back almost 200 million years. Yet despite the long history of its evolution, the worm displays complex behavior and a level of resourcefulness that far surpasses many of its adjacent species. The feather duster can build tubes out of a wide variety of materials, including sand, broken shell pieces and even parchment. Also, the feather duster worm has a uniquely sensitive instinct of preservation, being able to quickly retract its entire crown when sensing the presence of a nearby threat.

How Do These Worms Feed?

While most species feed on small organisms brought by water currents, some can also extend down to the seabed to collect detrivores. Feather dusters sort trapped food particles and organisms through conducting grooves found on the radioles. Larger particles are subsequently rejected, while medium particles travel along the center of the grooves, and are sometimes stored to be used as a later time as construction materials. Some of the most common organisms on the menu for feather duster worm species include phytoplankton, fine detritus and other small microorganisms.

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