Bristle Worms? - The Reef Tank

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Old 09-01-2004, 01:51 AM   #1
ruben resendiz
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Bristle Worms?

hello it is me again...I have another question. I have heard a lot about bristle worms but the same people telling me or giving me advise also gave me advise that turned out to be wrong and killed several of my fish and coral. So here is my question are bristle worms bad or good for my tank? I do not even know for sure that they are bristle worms because I have never seen one. The one's in my tank come out at night and they look like little centipedes there are hundreds of them. they have a orangish red color to them. I have a reef set up and I am worried that they might damage my reef. any advise you might have will help....Thank You....
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Old 09-01-2004, 02:05 AM   #2
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IME bristlewors are harmless. Some people hate certain reef creratures because they are not pretty to look at or have a bad rep. Some do not even know why they discourage some species, they do it because they have read about it..

That being said, bristleworms are absolutley wonderful at cleaning up detrius, arguable better than ANY other creature in your reef system. They are a woem, and being such can get into any crevice, any shell (like that flipped turbo behing 100 lbs of rock) etc etc. They are also a part of you nocturnal tank, a wentie other show that goes on as you sleep. Personally I have an entire crew of bristles, pods, shrimp, bumblebee snail etc, that go to work as I sleep to help keep my ecosystem in good shape.

Others may say to get rid of them, I for one have a pretty good track record for healthy tanks and feel they are beneficial.
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Old 09-01-2004, 02:06 AM   #3
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Exuse my terrible typing, its late!
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Old 09-01-2004, 02:19 AM   #4
ruben resendiz
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Thanks you have better advise then my local pet store where I buy most of my coral...
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Old 09-01-2004, 06:16 AM   #5
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I agree! They are good detritus eaters. The down fall to them can be, that if you overfeed your tank you will have an over abundance of them(I have heard plague levels, although It can be easily controled). I leave a few(15-20 in 70 gallon) in and catch a few every once in a while with a turkey baster. I stick them in my sump in case someone wants a few they are easier to catch there. William
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Old 09-01-2004, 06:39 AM   #6
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keep the bristleworms. BUT, make sure you wear rubber gloves when you're moving rock around in your tank. bristleworms' have, well, bristles, that hurt like the devil when they get stuck in you. Nothing to worry about, just painful.

if you can't question it, it isn't worth believing...
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Old 09-01-2004, 06:56 AM   #7
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Bristles are cool! William, IMO, you are knocking yourself out trying to remove them. They won't hurt anything and they are very beneficial. I have found that they will populate a tank based on the available food and predation ( ) so if you are seeing more than you like, either reduce the feedings in the tank, and/or, add a predator to keep them in check. A lot of wrasses and butterflyfish will eat them-just pick species compatible with the rest of the tank. I used to have one in my 55 that I measured at 18+"....I called it Maa'udib after the "Dune" books. I would direct feed it 5-6 shrimp pellets once a week to watch it come out of the rockwork and enhale the pellets whole like a vacum cleaner. Very cool critters! I didn't get a pic of the big one, but here is a little 6"er.
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File Type: jpg big bristle worm.jpg (12.5 KB, 673 views)
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Old 09-01-2004, 07:07 AM   #8
ruben resendiz
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thats them i must have about one thousand of them in my tank no lie about 2" every single one of them and about a thousand baby snails two they only come out at night two cant find them when my lights are on thanks guys
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Old 09-01-2004, 09:08 AM   #9
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Yup ,Bristle worms are not much of a problem in a tank,,,they used to thought of as a no-no in a reef tank, but know people seem to want them. I think the only ones that might give ya problems, are the very larger ones,,
but like in my tank the wrasse takes care of any of them
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Old 09-01-2004, 09:30 AM   #10
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Agreed...great critters to have. I have tons of them, and love to watch them come out. If you want, you can get a bristleworm trap from your petstore (mine cost 8.95). And you can load the trap, leave it in your tank over night, and voila, you will have caught quite a few. You can then give them to friends (Cheap Christmas presents), or find a LFS who appreciates them and is willing to give them a good home. :-) Some people have a hard time keeping bristle worms, (they have an arrow crab, or something that preys on them).
Instead of just building a reef in my home...I so wish I could afford to build my home in the reef!
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Old 09-01-2004, 09:42 AM   #11
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I had lots of bristle worms as well for a while when I set up my tank. I was sort of worried at first but the population will balance itself out. I also agree about getting the bristles in the finger, OUCH... I think they are great. They will cleam up like crazy at night... Get a flashlight with a red lense on it, (or red LED) and watch the show some night, pretty interesting...

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Old 09-01-2004, 10:14 AM   #12
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There's a bristle in our reef. They are harmless and helpful...and even if you tried to get rid of wouldn't. And right...don't touch their bristles.

Here's another view:

~ Shirley

Steve & Shirley's (extremely outdated) Reef Tank (was up and running for 8 years/ then we sold it.)
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Old 09-01-2004, 11:10 AM   #13
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Do they look like the above picutures or could they be Copepods?
My Picture Gallery

180 gallon in wall reef tank.
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Old 09-01-2004, 11:39 AM   #14
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Oodley Boodley, I do not remove all of them just a portion of them. I have them ranging in size from 2"-12". I only remove them so I can get to them when I need to(to give them to fellow reefers). I have quite a few in my tank and love them. I just like to share them with others that are not so fortunate to have any. As far as feeding, Since i only have one fish in my tank I doubt I am overfeeding. In fact I do not feed the fish(mandarin, so the food is supplied by my refugium). I do feed my corals and other inhabitants, but only a little and alot of those are directly fed. William
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Old 09-01-2004, 10:59 PM   #15
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They are harmless and helpful
That is not a good statement. Some are very dangerous. One must remember that most of the worms in your tank are all bristleworms, i.e., Fireworms, FeatherDusters, Spaghetti worms, Rag Worms. Bristleworms = Polychaeta

Bristleworm Factsheet and Mini-FAQ v0.92
by Mike Noreen
* Introduction
* About the Author
* Various disclaimers and copyright information
* The bristleworm Factsheet
1. What is a bristleworm?
2. Sedentary bristleworms.
3. Errant bristleworms.
4. The Bad Boys.
5. The Fireworm (additions welcomed).
* The Bristleworm FAQ
So you've set up a reef tank, with lots of live rock, corals, and fish. You
sit back to admire your work, when a strange centipede-like creature
suddenly crawls out from under a rock. What is it? Is it dangerous? Should
it be killed? How? Is it Bleach-and-Boil time?
The cavalry is here with some answers - I give you the Bristleworm Factsheet
and Frequently Asked Questions. Everything you've ever wanted to know about
bristleworms, and then some.
At the time of writing this I'm a biology student, specialising in marine
evertebrate systematics, at Stockholm University. I work at the Molecular
Systematics Laboratory at the National Museum of Natural History in
Stockholm, under Dr Ulf Jondelius, one of the worlds foremost authorities on
flatworms. Aquariums are my hobby, and I've some 20 years experience in the
field, 10 years with reef tanks.
Contacting the author with questions/suggestions/bug reports: email to:
or (preferably)
Legal stuff: This text is (c) Mike Noreen, but may be freely reproduced for
non-profit purposes as long as it is not altered in any way and the authors
name is not removed. Commercial use of this text (ie in publications)
require the written consent of the author.
Disclaimer: This text is as accurate as I could make it without making it
_too_ big, but I'm only human and there will be errors in it. I am not
responsible for any actions or losses or altered mental states resulting
from the reading of this text or following advice given in it.
1. What is a bristleworm?
The phylum Annelida (ringworms) is divided into three classes: the
Oligochaeta (earthworms and allies (ie tubifex)), the Hirudinea (leeches),
and the Polychaeta (bristleworms). By far the biggest class is the
polychaetes, with over 8000 species in at least 80 families - and more
species are described every year. Almost all polychaetes live in the sea,
although a few live in freshwater or in moist soil. They are extremely
diverse, ranging in length from 1mm to in excess of two meters, and are
abundant in all biotopes in all seas around the world. Together with
crustaceans they play a role reminiscent of that of insects on land, making
up the lower levels of the foodweb. Several species, mainly of errant
polychaetes, are used as fishing bait (ie the sand/lugworm).
From an aquarists point of view, for purposes of identification,
bristleworms can be crudely divided into errant and sedentary species
(please note that this is not systematically correct. This division does not
in any way reflect relationship, but is purely utilitarian).
Sedentary bristleworms stay in one place, are typically tube-builders and
feed by filtering microplankton with their often brightly coloured
retractable tentacle crowns. Common in our tanks are for example Peacock
worms pertaining to the family Sabellidae.
Errant bristleworms actively move about in search of food, which may be
other small vertebrates, algae, corals or almost any organic matter
depending on species. Errant bristleworms usually resemble centipedes in
general appearance, and have strong jaws.
Bristleworms normally reproduce sexually, usually with planktonic larvae.
Only about 30 out of 8000 species reproduce asexually by fission.
2. Sedentary bristleworms.
These guys are common and usually welcome inhabitants in reef tanks. Roughly
they can be divided into two different types: those with fan-like feeding
apparatuses and those with tentacle-like feeding apparatuses (again not a
systematically correct division, but useful for identification). They all
feed on small organic particles and detritus, and are totally harmless to
other inhabitants in the
Sedentary with fan-like feeding apparatus:
1. Peacock worms (any species belonging to the family Sabellidae).
Recognisable by their soft, leathery, tubes made of mud or sandgrains
and mucus. Worms of this family are often sold in pet shops. They
require good quality water to thrive, but are not photosynthetic. They
occasionally scare their owners by shedding their brightly coloured
crown of tentacles - don't worry, it grows back. However, if the worm
leaves its tube it's dying and should be removed (and water parameters
should be checked). They sometimes reproduce in aquaria, but not so to
become a problem.
2. Christmas tree worms and allies (several families, ie Spirorbidae,
Serpulidae). Very similar to Peacock worms, but living in limestone
tubes and sometimes burrowing in limestone (the familiar Fan worms of
living rock). Of particular interest are the Serpulidae and Spirorbidae
families, which may have sudden population explosions in the tank.
Serpulids are bigger than Spirorbids, and live in irregularly shaped
tubes, while the Spirorbid tubes are small, white, tightly coiled
spirals (spiral less than 1cm, often just a few mm, from side to side).
They may proliferate to the point that they become a minor nuisance,
clogging tubing and covering the glass, but usually these explosions
are over as quickly as they started, presumably because the worms
deplete the microplankton of the aquarium.
Sedentary with tentacle-like feeding apparatus:
Here we find a bunch of worms sometimes difficult to even identify as
1. Common in reef tanks are the Spaghetti worms and Sand Mason worms
belonging to the family Terebellidae. They hide their bodies (which are
quite large) in cracks in or under stones, and all that's visible are
the numerous, often 30cm long, narrow, flattened, u-shaped, translucent
tentacles. The tentacles work as conveyor belts, bringing detritus to
the worm on which it feeds.
2. Other extremely common but rarely noticed worms belong to the family
Spionidae; they are small, burrow in limestone (and snail shells), and
all that's visible of them are two short tentacles.
3. Errant bristleworms.
The problematic ones in tanks. They are ugly, move in an unnerving manner,
can pack nasty poisonous bites and/or poisonous bristles, and may eat things
the aquarist would not like them to eat. In general appearance they resemble
centipedes (although the 'legs' are not true legs, and they are not related
to centipedes), and are always present in all tanks with live rock or live
sand. They are of varying colour, size and disposition, and a great number
of families and even greater number of species are found in aquaria. It is
very common for errant polychaetes to be opportunists - eating algae,
scavenging, or killing small evertebrates as opportunity presents itself.
Despite their omnivorous habits the vast majority of species are totally
harmless in a reef tank. A very few species may however cause problems.
4. The Bad Boys.
Errant bristleworms cause problems in two ways: either by becoming so big
that they can attack things they normally would not be able to harm (ie fish
or aquarists fingers), or by being predators/parasites on valuable
inhabitants in the aquarium.
* Bad because of size: Basically a bristleworm larger than, say,
two-three inches can deliver painful bites, and conceivably kill fish,
shrimp etc. Some species also have poisonous bites, and although I've
never heard of anyone dying of bristleworm-bite, there's no doubt they
could seriously inconvenience a sensitive person (normally a bite from
a poisonous species, ie a Glycera, is comparable to the sting of a
wasp). Use caution (and/or tweezers) when dealing with a large worm.
* Bad because it's a specialised predator/parasite: Actually very few
bristleworms are parasites, and none on vertebrates, so the fish are
safe (except from very large very hungry predatory worms). Some species
do eat corals, and may cause problems. The most known coral-eating
species is the Fireworm.
5. The Fireworm
(additions welcomed):
The Fireworms are a group of coral-eating worms from the Caribbean, common
in shallow waters. In general appearance a fireworm is fat, fatter than an
earthworm, reddish-brown, with prominent tufts of white-to-green bristles.
They can multiply rapidly, and can in a short time kill all corals in a
tank. They have got their names from having poisoned bristles, which cause
skin irritation. Handle with care. Various methods have been suggested to
remove Fireworms. These include: commercially sold traps, mechanical removal
with tweezers, putting something tasty (ie shrimp meat) in old nylon
stockings in the tank overnight. The worms become entangled in the nylon,
and can be removed in the morning. If I sound somewhat vague on fireworms,
that's because I've never even seen an actual fireworm.
Want to Talk Chemistry ? The Reef Chemistry Forum
Former US Army Bomb Technician (EOD)
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arrow crab , baby snails , bristle worm , christmas tree worm , christmas tree worms , detritus eaters , fan worms , shrimp pellets , snail shells , spaghetti worm , spaghetti worms

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