peacock worm

Peacock worm

Latin name: Sabella pavonina
Global Distribution: Northwest Europe
UK Distribution: British coasts
Size: 30cm long, 4mm wide
Diet: Filter feeder of small floating food particles
Habitat: On stones in sandy and muddy subtidal and lower shore

The peacock worm is a long, thin worm that lives in a tube made of fine sand and/or mud held together with mucus from which the head projects a ‘crown’ of feathery tentacles. The species is notable for being very colourful, its body can be yellowish-orange, greyish purple or greyish green, and its crown possesses a banded colour pattern with various colours, including brown, red and purple. Their bodies consist of 100-600 small repeating segments.

The tubes they live in are attached to stones, and stand upright with the upper end projected above the sandy/muddy seafloor. In water, the tentacle crown extends out of the tube and filters out floating food particles that pass by. Out of water, or if disturbed, they retreat inside their tube. These worms can live in large groups, with their tubes providing habitat for other species including sponges, seaweeds and sea squirts that attach to their tubes.

They breed during in the spring  and summer, and they exist as separate genders, unlike the hermaphroditic lifestyle of some worms.

Fun facts

  • Sabella pavonina may be able to reverse the effects of exposure to some heavy metals. One study showed that following contamination from silver, they were able to remove the metal from their tissues when under silver-free conditions.
  • This species can be found on rocks and shipwrecks, as well as their usual habitats of sand, mud and gravel.