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How to Tell If a Feather Duster Is Dead

Updated April 17, 2017

Feather dusters are aquatic worms that live inside a tube that have a "feather duster" effect due to their feather-like tentacles that wave through the water to glean food for the worm. The informed aquarium and marine hobbyist will refer to these whimsical worms as Polychaete Annelidans, specifically as Sedentaria, the feather duster worm. The tubes of these worms are attached to rubble or rock in the aquarium or natural habitat. The tentacles expand and wisp through the water collecting edible debris such as meat particles or algae. Since these aquarium residences do not swim around, it can be difficult to determine if they are living or not. Follow these steps to determine if your feather duster is dead or alive.

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  1. Look to see if the feather duster head is inside the tube a majority of the time; if so, the worm cannot feed and will die. The head may be pulled inside the tube because of a high current in the aquarium or natural habitat. If possible, in an aquarium, relocate the feather duster to a calmer area. A healthy feather duster will display its tentacles, or crown, a majority of the time. If your feather duster does this, it is fine. If your feather duster doesn't do this, continue to read.

  2. Look to see if the tentacles, or crown, of a healthy feather duster will respond to motion, changes in lighting and touch by retracting. If your feather duster does this, it is fine. If your feather duster doesn't respond, continue to read.

  3. Visually inspect the tube of the feather duster. If the tube is not firmly attached to the rubble or rock, it is an indication of ill health. Another indication of ill health is finding tears or rips in the tube. The feather duster worm should not extend outside of the body, aside from the namesake tentacles. If your feather duster tube is fine, continue reading.

  4. Look to see if the feather duster has dropped, or lost, its tentacles. The stress might be due to high temperatures, high currents or harassment from other inhabitants of the aquarium or natural habitat. The tentacles will regrow if the situation is corrected. If your feather duster has dropped its tentacles and the situation is corrected, it will take a few weeks to regrow tentacles. If the tentacles have not grown in three to four weeks, it can be presumed that your feather duster is dead.

  5. Tip

    Remove damsels, dwarf angels, basses, triggers and live shrimp from your reef for increased feather duster health.


    Never remove a feather duster from the water.

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Things You'll Need

  • Feather duster

About the Author

Christy Flora has been writing professionally for more than fifteen years after winning her first awards for writing in the early 1980's. With a degree in Education, specializing in Organizational Leadership, Flora is an experienced, and published, author and editor. As a writer Flora has worked as an instructional designer spanning the genres of informational, educational and technical.

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