I love worms. No, not intestinal worms. Not earth worms. Worms in the ocean! There are many different types of worms in the ocean, and it may surprise you to hear them described as beautiful and even fun. Most people only focus on the mega-fauna (dolphins, whales, sharks…big sea creatures) and many of the little guys get overlooked. That’s why I thought it would be fun to let you know how awesome the little guys are too!
Some of my favorites worms are very common and can be found on any coral reef: Christmas tree worms, feather duster worms, and spaghetti worms. Believe it or not, if you’ve ever been snorkeling our diving on a coral reef, you’ve probably swam over hundreds of them.
Christmas tree worms, sometimes known as plume worms, embed themselves into hard corals such as brain corals or star corals. Most of their bodies are not visible, except for their plumes which resemble two tiny little brightly colored Christmas trees with spiral trunks. They come in almost any color you can imagine. They use their plumes to catch food, tiny particles of plankton that happen to float by. You can wave your hand near them or snap your fingers and they will disappear, retracting their plumes into the coral. They do this because sudden water movement alerts them that a predator may be dangerously close. If you are patient and watch for a minute or so, you will see them slowly extend their plumes again and their two little Christmas trees will “grow” back.
Feather duster worms are in the tube worm family, and are similar to Christmas tree worms. Instead of two tiny Christmas trees, though, they stick out their feather duster to catch plankton. Their feather dusters are round, and typically between one to three inches in diameter. They are also lots of fun to snap at and then watch “grow” back.
Spaghetti worms typically live on a sandy or rubble substrate, and take shelter underneath a hard coral or a rock. They have many long, sticky appendages that resemble clear rice noodles. They stretch them out in all directions to catch their tiny food. If you gently touch them with your finger they contract and all of the “spaghetti” gets sucked in underneath the coral or rock.
I hope next time you have the opportunity to snorkel or scuba dive on a coral reef you will take your time and go nice and slow to you can see and enjoy these tiny little wonders of the ocean.
- Christmas tree worms – alumroot
- Feather duster worm – TonyShihctgintl
- Spaghetti worms – wildsingapore