Social Feather-Duster Worms are well named. These worms live in groups, making them social. Their heads look like an old-fashioned feather duster that you might use to sweep dust off of your furniture. The ReefNews staff have seen Social Feather-Duster Worms on reefs throughout the Caribbean. We saw these worms on a reef near the west coast of Bimini.
Social Feather-Duster Worms are tiny. If you look closely, you'll see that each worm lives in its own tube. The tubes are small; about the size of a soda straw and barely 1/4 of an inch across. The worm's head sticks out of the end of its tube. If danger threatens, it can pull its head down into its tube in the blink of an eye. The worm makes its tube using calcium-based minerals, similar to our bones.
This colony of Social Feather Duster Worms is surrounded by beautiful orange, red, and brown sponges. Sponges are colonies of thousands of animals that survive as a team by pumping water to catch their prey.
The second picture shows a close-up of the head of a Social Feather-Duster Worm. Its mouth is in the center of a circle of antennae called radioles. The radioles form a circle barely one inch across. Each antenna looks something like a feather. Notice that each antenna is folded into a V-shaped cross section. The worm uses its radioles to catch food and to breathe. Ocean currents push water through the radioles, which work like a net to trap tiny plants and animals called plankton that float in the water. The radioles also work like gills, exchanging carbon dioxide for oxygen in the water, allowing the worm to breathe.
These Social Feather-Duster Worms give a good example of why we must be careful when we are near coral reefs. The worms and their tubes and radioles are very delicate, and could be damaged or destroyed if we so much as bumped into them. It is very important for us not to bump into the reef when we are diving, and extremely important for us not to harm the coral reefs with our boats or their anchors. Knowledge about the coral reefs will help us to protect them.
Compare these Social Feather-Duster Worms with a different kind of tube dwelling worm, the Christmas-Tree Worm.
Learn more about the Coral Reefs of Bimini on the 2001 ReefNews CD-ROM
Bimini: Jewel of the Gulf Stream
Tessa Dowell took the first picture using a Nikonos V with 28mm lens and SB105 strobe, using a close-up attachment lens. The second picture was taken with the 28mm lens and a 1:2 extension tube. This photo was taken during the ReefNews research expedition to Bimini, June 2001.