Common Names: Feather duster
Range: Tropical Indo-Pacific and Red Sea
Natural Environment: Inhabits suspension-rich areas with its parchment-like tube embedded in shady, sandy, and/or muddy rubble areas of lagoons and bays.
Water Requirements: Calcium 380 to 430 ppm, alkalinity 2.5 meq/l, pH 8.1 to 8.2, specific gravity 1.024 to 1.026, and a temperature range of 72° to 83°F (22° to 28°C).
Sabellid worms, commonly called feather dusters, construct a leathery tube, sometimes up to 10 inches (25 cm) in length, from which they extend a single crown of multicolored feather-like filaments (usually a mottled reddish-brown and white) of about 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 cm) in diameter.
This is the most common feather duster sold in the trade. A congener of this species, S. magnifica, hails from the tropical West Atlantic and the Caribbean; it looks quite similar, but is not yet as plentiful.
Since these are suspension feeders that are usually found buried in sand or mud in the wild—and not adhered to or between rockwork high in the water column—they should be placed near or at the bottom of the aquarium.
Furthermore, their tubes are constructed of sand, detritus, mucus, and other bits of sediment, which is another reason why it’s better to locate them near the bottom of the aquarium where this type of material is more plentiful. Suspended particulate matter is also often higher near the bottom of the aquarium and, since these are suspension feeders and not photosynthetic animals, it’s another good reason to have them near the bottom substrate.
Feather dusters use their slime-coated filaments/tentacles (or “feathers,” as some call them) for respiration and to collect suspended particulate matter/plankton. The collected matter is then drawn towards the mouth area at the center of the tentacle ring. Feeding solutions should be applied near and under the crown of feathers so they can be normally drawn up by the beating cilia on the feathers.
These tiny hair-like extensions actually generate the current that draws the food supply into the feather-like head of the animal. Frequent feedings, at least every other day, with fresh or preserved zooplankton and phytoplankton additives are a must for long-term survival. Keep in mind that dispensing the feeding solution above the animal may cause the animal to retract, resulting in most of the feeding solution going to waste.
Feather dusters may lose their crown of feathers for many reasons, e.g., poor water quality, being disturbed too often, or lack of sufficient nutrition. This does not mean they are dead, as most will grow their feathers back in a month or two. If the head/crown of feathers returns and is smaller, this is an indication the food supply is inadequate. If this happens again and the head comes back again smaller, it may indicate that the tubeworm will die. Always wait a couple of months and if no reappearance occurs, feel the tube with your fingers for the body of the worm inside. If there is some movement inside the tube, be patient for another month.
When it comes to keeping any of these ornamental-type worms, predators such as triggerfishes, wrasses, angelfishes, most shrimp, and arrow crabs will not make suitable tankmates.