Feather Duster Worm Facts and Care Guidance

A lot of aquarists often turn to Feather Duster worm when they want to have interesting invertebrate to their fish tank. Before you are marching to the fish store and buy yourself a fan worm, it’s better to know some of its facts and really make sure that you do WANT to buy the worm.

Feather Duster Worm Quick Facts

Here are some of the things you should know about the Feather Duster worm. The scientific name is Sabellidae sp. But the ‘popular’ names are Coco, Yellow, Royal, Dwarf, or Hawaiian Feather Duster worm. The most popular ones are the Fan Worm or the Feather Duster. Its maximum size is around 2.5 inches with the tank size of at least 10 gallons. The creature itself is pretty docile. They have various colors, but it depends on the species. It has moderate care level – not super easy, but not super difficult either. They can live to a year or two years. Their main food would be plankton filter feeder.

More about Feather Duster Worm

You can easily find the worm in reef’s subtidal zones all over the world. Find the location where the currents are moderate – and you will find them there. Moderate currents are crucial for the worm so planktons would be ‘brought’ to them and yet it is done in such a gentle manner so their feather crown won’t be damaged or broken.

feather duster worm
Magnificent feather duster worm – Protula magnifica on a background of encrusting sponges and coral, Gili Meno, Lombok, Indonesia

The feather crown is basically the special body part that can trap plankton and then move it to the mouth. Despite the fact that they don’t have any eyes or face, they know and they can detect changes in the light. They can even use the light sensitivity so predators won’t be able to prey on them. Whenever the worm feels threatened, they would retreat to its tube – it’s their natural defensive and protection mechanism. A lot of aquarists love this peek-a-boo display – it’s one of the many reasons why you should have the worm in your tank.

The worm also has another interesting behavior

They would build tubes so they can protect the soft bodies from detritus – which they filter out from the water. They reproduce asexually – through fragmentation. Feather Duster worm isn’t fussy or picky about their habitat or living condition. As long as you can maintain standard reef aquarium water parameter, they would be fine and happy. They are invertebrates, which mean that they can’t stand copper – it will kill them. You may want to check your water source whether it has copper or not.

This creature requires gentle water flow – moderate would be fine. You may want to place this annelid invertebrate in the crushed coral or sandy substrate – and don’t forget about the water flow. It should be close to live rock too. They don’t need strong lighting. Don’t put them in the strong or turbulent flow – it will hurt their feeding apparatus. In fact, their tubes are extremely fragile so you want to be extra careful whenever you clean the tank. Make sure that they acclimate well and then attached well to the substrate, and then be careful when cleaning.

Common Issues – Reasons the Worm Lost the Feathers

As it was mentioned, the feathery crown is the unique part that makes this worm interesting and visually appealing. But you shouldn’t forget that it is quite sensitive and fragile too. So, when you see the crown somewhat loses the feathers, you may be panicky and upset, right? Don’t be! Here are several reasons why such thing may happen:

  • Transportation stress. When you add the worm and it sheds the feathers, it is highly likely because of the transportation stress. If the worm is healthy, new feathers would be visible after a few weeks. You just have to observe and wait patiently.
  • Mating season preparation. This creature will shed the feathers during mating season – well, it happens in the ocean, in reality. It is a part of its natural mechanism that would prevent itself from capturing the junior and eating it.
  • Injury or damaged parts. When the worm has significant damages to the body, it will shed the feathers. But it can go out of control because shed feathers meaning that they can’t eat. If they can’t eat, they won’t be able to heal themselves because they don’t have enough energy.
  • Fish bully. It’s possible that one of the fish pick on it – nipping on the feathers. Such a thing may happen if you keep Flame Angelfish or Six Line Wrasse within the same tank as the Feather Duster worm. The worm is stressed out, resulting in the loss of feather.
  • Malnourishment and starvation. The problem with this creature is that they need to be properly (and routinely) fed with the proper size of foods. If not, they will starve to death slowly. That’s why you should monitor and observe the worm regularly.
  • Constant adjustments. Fan worms like to stay in one place, but it doesn’t mean that they can’t move – they just DON’T want to move. If your placement isn’t considered ideal for them, they may relocate themselves to different areas. However, if they do this, they will have to leave the tube, move their body, and then build a new one. And they need some time of adjustment in the new place – which is another reason why they shed their feathers.

Compatibility within the Tank

Feather Duster worm is basically a gentle creature. They won’t disturb other animals, unless for the planktons. After all, planktons are their food. When it comes to compatibility, they won’t cause any issue. Unlike corals, they don’t have any stinging nematocysts – and they don’t produce any toxic chemicals either that can kill the neighboring animals.

The only problem is that other fish and invertebrates would consider this worm as food – yes, Feather Duster worm is their food. You may want to add this worm in a different tank from your fish. It is also a bad idea to put the fish together with fish species that would nip at their feathers – which mean that they shouldn’t be kept together with butterfly, angelfish, and wrasse families. It also means that the worm should stay away from Melanurus Wrasse, Longnose Butterflyfish, Copperband Butterflyfish, Six Line Wrasse, or Arrow Crab.

Reproduction and Breeding

Fan worms can actually spawn inside the fish tank and there are various of species that are done so. However, it is difficult for the larvae to survive – mostly because other creatures would prey on them and eat them. This worm can actually reproduce asexually. They will break a piece of the body off and then send it to the water – so the smaller parts can grow on their own. This process actually takes place quite naturally. A worm can form Sabellidaes colony – eventually. This may become an issue in a long term, but the worm itself is reproducing slowly, especially in captivity.

The worm is a filter feeder with substrate attached mechanism, which means that they won’t be able to find or get their own meals. It also means that you need to feed them through direct dose feeding. They will trap the floating food, thanks to the feathers. They will then pull the food into their mouth. That’s where the ingestion and digestion takes place. You can feed them baby brine shrimp and planktons – they love such a food in their home aquarium.

Finding and Buying the Worm

This type of worm isn’t exactly difficult to locate or find. You should be able to find them at local fish store or even online store. Many aquarists claim that they get their fan worms from the online store – and the worm seems to be doing fine.

However, you should remember that this fan worms have many types of species. Different species would lead to different price tags. Royal Featherduster, for instance, are costlier. This type isn’t the standard general one so they may not be available just anywhere. If you have limited budgets, though, and you want to get the less expensive type, go for Dwarf Featherduster or Hawaiian Featherduster. They are more perfect for you. Moreover, most fish tank shops would also sell popular variants of this worm, such as the Christmas Feather Duster. In short, you will never run out of fan worm types and options.


Feather Duster worm is peaceful and non-fussy. They will only bother the food – and they don’t care about the others. They don’t have any special requirements either. They are okay with light or moderate water flow, standard water parameters, and general food. They aren’t picky eaters that only choose specific type of food. You can even use small fish tanks to keep them – and they will strive quite well. You only need to keep them away from their predators or from animals that will bully or bother them. This is an animal that is easily made happy – as long as you can meet their requirements and expectations. You should see that Feather Duster worm would be a unique addition to your fish tank.


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