How to happily keep feather dusters in your tank!

» Posted by on Apr 8, 2016 in Chris F | Comments Off on Keeping Feather Dusters in the Home Aquarium

Keeping Feather Dusters in the Home Aquarium

“I think we consider too much the good luck of the early bird and not enough of the bad luck of the worm” said Franklin D Roosevelt. When someone mentions a worm most people picture your stereotypical earth worm living in the garden eating compost and getting eaten by birds in the cool early morning. However several species of worms known as “feather dusters” within the marine aquarium hobby display a splendid variety of colors and patterns along with unique lifestyle. Believe it or not feather dusters are annelids, which simply means they’re closely related to earthworms, such as the ones you find in the garden. However they differ significantly from their mobile relatives by being sessile (living in a fixed spot). Similar to earth worms, feather dusters have a segmented body, although it is usually hidden by a tube constructed of mucus/detritus with some species living within corals or constructing their own calcium carbonate tube.

The crown of a feather duster worm

The most distinguishing part of a feather duster is the “crown” which is basically feather shaped rays known as radioles. These radioles are arranged in two half circles that form a funnel utilized in filter feeding of suspended material. The cilia on the radioles generate currents which draw water, food particles and waste in and out of the crown. The feather duster worms belong to several families of Polychaeta. Those with a soft tube consisting of a polysaccharide matrix of mucus/detritus are generally from the family Sabellidae, with a single genus being capable of creating a calcareous tube. The hard tube feather dusters belong to the family Serpulidae.

Feather dusters feed on a variety of particulates suspended within the water column such as fine detritus, bacteria, phytoplankton, and tiny microorganisms, most of which are found within a well-established reef aquarium at least a year in age. For best success one should only add a feather duster once the aquarium has been established for this amount of time and there is a healthy population of other reef safe organisms such as corals, fish, shrimp, snails, etc. The addition of various filter feeder foods such as phytoplankton, rotifers, zooplankton, marine snow and various other liquid-based foods will meet their nutritional needs. Remember to feed sparingly as excessive overfeeding will contribute to poor water quality.

Water flow is crucial to the health of feather dusters worms and the reef aquarium in general as water currents stimulate natural physical functions, bringing food/waste to and from the organism and helps in respiration. Thus water flow for feather duster should be considered medium and indirect, preferably alternating, flow via a wave maker.

Lighting is not a major concern to feather dusters as they obtain the majority of their nutritional needs from filter feeding and don’t directly rely on symbiotic zooxanthellae for their energy requirements. So placement of feather duster worms usually occurs on the bottom/middle portions of the aquarium.

“Mmm, delicious worms”

Problems with feather dusters in a correct environment are relatively scarce. However, some fish and invertebrates have been known to eat/damage feather dusters deliberately or accidentally. Butterfly fish can easily eliminate feather dusters due to their specific lifestyle and diet. Some wrasse species also have a penchant for eating feather dusters, thus care should be taken to research any potential species being added to an aquarium containing feather dusters. Finally, some crabs and serpent stars may become opportunistic feeders, thus careful observation should be implemented with these species.

Feather dusters will occasionally shed their crown and or tube due to a shift in parameters such as a transfer from aquariums or a fluctuation in water parameters. Inexperienced aquarists believe the feather duster has simply died and throw the entire tube out. The best course of action is to save the tube and patiently wait to see if the feather duster will regenerate its crown/ tube over the course of several days.

Feather Duster worm without its tube

The species:

Bispira violais

The most common feather duster within the aquarium hobby. It’s generally found worldwide in temperate and tropical waters situated high on top of rocks and algae.

Bispira brunnea

Collectively known as the cluster duster which frequently lives within closely packed groups of several small miniature feather dusters. They form clusters of clones attached to a hard substrate at a central point. It’s found throughout the Caribbean where collectors remove specimens from rocks. Unfortunately they do not readily reattach to rockwork in the home aquariums. The best solution to this problem is to utilize reef glue “cyanoacrylate“ to reattach the colony to a solid piece of rockwork.

Protula bispiralis

Red Coco worm

The hard tube “Coco worm” originates from Indonesia and is extremely popular and relatively expensive. However this feather duster generally has a short lifespan within home aquarium requiring sufficient amount of food and calcium/alkalinity in order to maintain health.

Christmas tree worms

Porites and their Bisma worms

This unique combination of colorful Christmas tree worms (Bisma worms) living within the skeleton of a jewel coral (Porites) is sight to see as each individual feather duster has their own coloration creating a wildflower bed on top of the coral.  Care should be considered for both the coral and worm colony as the combination displays best when both specimens are alive in prime condition. Porites and their Bisma worms generally occur in shallow water where high light and high flow are greatly appreciated along with the addition of various filter feeder foods. The feather duster will die if the entire coral perishes.

In conclusion, feather duster worms are a greatly overlooked invertebrates that can add movement and color to the majority of suitable reef aquariums.



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