Friday, 1 December 2017

Social Feather Duster Worm

Image: Nick Hobgood
Bispira brunnea
It's the cluster duster!

In my experience, feather dusters are often gregarious—I usually find them in packs of three or four, sometimes six—but the Social Feather Duster Worm puts those numbers to shame!

Image: James St. John
Social Feather Dusters are polychaete worms who have given up on the worming, squirming lifestyles typical of so many of their relatives. No crawling around or burrowing through the seabed for them, these guys are homeowners! They even build their house with their own two hands body in general.

There are lots of feather dusters and fanworms like the Coco Worm and the Red-spotted Horseshoe. The Social Feather Duster Worm differs from most others in that, well, it's social. They like to hang out with their friends, create a little community, play whist and bridge instead of freecell and solitaire.

Image: Sean Nash
Social Feather Dusters are found in the Caribbean, living in clumps of up to 100 individuals. Each worm constructs a tough, parchment-like tube out of mucusy secretions strengthened with grains of sand and bits of shell. These tubes are securely anchored to rocks on the seabed because while they own their own home, they still like to keep their feet body in general close to ground level.

An individual worm can reach 2 cm (0.8 in) long, not that you'll ever get to see that. Social Feather Dusters are real homebodies who are loath to leave their tubes. The most they'll do is peek through the door to show off their exquisite crowns to the world outside.

Image: jome jome
This crown is made up of numerous, feathery tentacles and, while they're certainly pretty, the Feather Duster isn't just showing off. That crown is great for funnelling tiny crumbs of food right into the worm's mouth.

Sure, those tentacles are basically cutlery but it's still a case of LOOK, DON'T TOUCH. Darken a Feather Duster's door with your threatening shadow and those beautiful feathers will disappear as the worm retreats, deep into its tube. One can never be too careful with one's crown jewels.

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