feather duster worm

Another installment of scientific illustration, this time we have a colony of Feather Duster Worms, an aerial view of a Spotted Shrimp, as well as a side view and a couple of Dinoflagellates at the bottom. Colorway is of my own interpretation…


Feather Duster Worm (Sabellastarte spectabilis)

Also known as the fan worm the feather duster worm is a species of sabellid polychaete worm that occurs n the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. However, it has also been recorded off the coasts of Africa and the Gulf of Mexico. Like other tube-building worms S. spectabilis typically inhabits holes and cracks on reefs and rocky shores. S. spectabilis is a filter feeder and will use its feather-duster like tentacles that are laced with cilia to create currents to move organic particles towards its mouth. Non-food particles are typically used to build and maintain the tube. S. spetabilis’s tentacles also serve as gills for gas exchange.


Animalia-Annelida-Polychaetea-Sabellida-Sabellidae-Sabellastarte-S. spectabilis

Images: Chris Gotschalk and Darylne A. Murawski

This feather duster worm in Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary waves its feathery arms to feed. Did you know that the majority of these worms’ bodies actually remain hidden in thick cylinders that they form from sediment particles and mucus? The fan part we see here is just the “head” of these amazing creatures that allows them to filter feed. Some fossils of feather duster worms date back to the early Jurassic period!

(Photo: Greg McFall/NOAA)

Feather Duster Worm

Photograph by Heather Perry, National Geographic

The “feathers” of this feather duster worm are actually tentacles that feature an array of fine hairs. The bottom-dwelling worms use these “fans” to gather plankton or other bits of floating food, as well as to take in oxygen. Some feather dusters boast fans 6 inches (15 centimeters) across.

Christmas Sea Worm Spirobranchus giganteus. The Christmas tree-like crowns are composed of radioles, or hair-like appendages radiating from the worm’s central spine. These appendages are used for respiration and to catch dinner, which typically consists of microscopic plants, or phytoplankton, floating in the water.
This photo was captured during a night dive in Anilao (Philippines). by juliosanjuan5

If I had to be a worm, I’d choose to be a magnificent feather duster worm. It’s an apt name, because their feeding tentacles (radioles) really do look like weightless feathers flowing in the surge.

Pretty common throughout the Caribbean, this is the largest of feather duster worms (the bigger cousin of the “Christmas tree” worms). These guys have a double crown of tentacles (clearly seen in this photo).

Featherduster worm in Anilao, Philippines

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