I caught the big one…..Every reef aquarist seems to have a fishing story, or worming story as it is.  I have the pictures to prove it!

So something was eating my fish in my 40G reef.  I would buy one, it would disappear.  I could hear a distinctive snapping sound after the lights were off at night, so I assumed it was a mantis shrimp.  I waited agonizing months to buy fish.  Finally, the snapping stopped.  I’m not sure if the shrimp died of starvation or old age, but it died.  Yet still, my corals were often rearranged.  I would look into the tank to see a large Trachaphyllia spp. shoved against the live rock and other corals.  Brain corals don’t walk!

One night, my boyfriend asked, during a romantic candlelit dinner, “what on earth is that thing!?!?”  I turned to look at the aquarium and saw the ugly head of the bristleworm.  That will kill the romance!!  It became more and more bold, but I never saw it eat anything but algae.  Then it started munching corals.  The rearranging was amazing.  How could it move such large rocks?  Each fish disappeared.  Extracting it was impossible, so I gave up.

Then my boyfriend proposed, we married, and it was time to move.  After carefully packing each coral and wrapping the live rock, I left the sand bed intact to be moved with the aquarium (the ONLY advantage of lightweight acrylic).  And there it was.  Squirming unhappily in the now clouded water, he was present at full length of at least 15 inches!  I had to get it out of there or I would never have any fish.  Then we noticed.  We had only seen the little one.


Full Length

I tried to scoop it into a container, and it only broke into pieces.  I began to panic and pulled out all three pieces bare-handed, much to Carlton’s chagrin.  He knew they could sting.  Calmer after the catch, I used a plastic bag to catch the Big Worm.  We tossed them into a container and took a video.

We kept them, the Big Worm and the three pieces of worm, all still wriggling around in the container.  We showed them to my parents for the gross-out factor.  Then my dad said, “Why don’t you keep them?”  After seeing the mouth on this thing, who would want to keep it?  Then I realized:  I owe it to science.

Head & Mouth

Is this thing pretty??

That’s right folks, I’ve made a home for this thing.  I started it and the three pieces in their own 5-gallon home.  The two headless pieces died, but the remaining piece regrew a tail.  I’ve since moved the Big Worm and the remaining piece to a ten-gallon.  I broke Big Worm’s tail in the move, but he’s regrown quite well.  You can see from the picture at left how it is iridescent red and yellow with incandescent light; these colors do not show very well under the blue-white of a reef.

Watching it eat is fascinating.  I feed it chopped squid and shrimp; it also like to eat clumps of hair algae with tiny crustaceans in it.  Its mouth expands immensely and black pincers emerge to stuff in the food.  I added a small damsel to the tank thinking it would stay in the water column, but no: it was half eaten, protruding from his tunnels, the next morning.  By nightfall it was totally eaten.

Anyone who can help identify this species, or who wants more information on my observations, email me:

2 thoughts on “Bristleworm

  1. Pingback: Bristleworm and Snail Friends at Nicole, Deipnosophist.

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