If you think that feather duster worms have something to do with cleaning, think again. Feather duster worms, also known as fan worms, are legless, marine invertebrates. They belong to the class known as bristle worms. A colourful crown of tentacles sets the feather duster worm apart from their other bristle worm cousins. As Joanne Heumeler writes in "Not Your Ordinary Feather Duster, "...their beauty is much loved by divers, tidepoolers and boaters."
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The feather duster worm creates a leathery tube of protein and filtered particles. Radiating from the head is a crown of banded tentacles, which may be orange, maroon or brown, and range in size from 2 to 10 inches in diameter. Huemoeller writes, "All we see of the feather duster worm is its crowning plume. The rest of its body remains safely out of sight within its tubular home."
The crown of the feather duster is used for respiration and for feeding. The turbid water of the ocean brings oxygen, plankton and sediment to the tentacles. Grooves that run down the shaft of each tentacle leading to the worm's mouth. Plankton is transported and consumed while sediment is either discarded or saved for construction of the worm's tube. Huemoeller writes, "They are also covered in eyespots, so the worm knows when danger is near and can retreat into its tube."
Feather duster worms that reproduce sexually do so by means of external fertilisation. Eggs are released into the water and fertilised outside the body. The fertilised eggs become part of the plankton until they find a suitable place to attach.
In an article on aquarium invertebrates, Julian Spring writes that asexual reproduction happens when, "...the posterior end of the worm breaks off and develops a new crown while the 'parent' grows a new posterior."
Feather Duster Worms prefer a turbid environment in a protected area. Ocean surge must be strong enough to bring particles of food and sediment. They can be found in large clusters in tide pools anchored to rocks, on docks and on surge channel walls. When the tide is out, water is retained in their tubes to keep them cool and moist. These worms can be found from Alaska to Southern California as well as in the Hawaiian Islands.
In The Home Aquarium
Feather duster worms are a beautiful as well as beneficial addition to reef aquariums. Pet Education.com writes, "The ideal aquarium for fan worms is one with plenty of live rock, a sand bed and invertebrate-friendly inhabitants." When feather duster worms are stressed by changes in salinity or temperature, they may shed their crown. The crown does grow back if conditions improve. A feather duster worm's tentacles filter organic particles from the water that many filtration systems miss. This helps maintain good water quality.
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- "Hawaii's Sea Creatures: A Guide to Hawai'i's Marine Invertebrates"; John P. Hoover; 1998
- Northwest Magazines: Not Your Ordinary Feather Duster
- Marine Bio: Eudistylia polymorpha, Giant Feather Duster Worm
- Walla Walla University: Eudistylia vancouveri (Kinberg, 1867)
- Pet Education.com: Fan Worms & Feather Dusters