The wild coral reef has a huge range of lifeforms, far more than can ever be kept in an aquarium. However, by careful selection there are many that can be successfully added. One of these is the featherduster worm, also known as the fanworm or tubeworm. They have varying patterns and are very attractive and different. They are members of the Sabellid family and are not uncommon in marine aquarium shops. The aquarium they are destined for should be mature, that is it should not be very new and still close to its initial maturation. One or more can be placed in suitable positions.
There isn’t any need to be concerned about lighting as the featherduster isn’t dependant on it as a coral is. They are also reasonably hardy. Hopefully seawater conditions will be good – as they should be – but the featherduster can cope, to an extent, with reduced quality. Food is taken by filtering which, as is obvious is done by the feathery head. Very small filter food could well be used in the aquarium already for other species. If not, then a little could be used occasionally with care, say once every other day, releasing it fairly close and ensuring the seawater flow carries it to the featherduster’s head.
There shouldn’t be any potentially aggressive crabs in the aquarium or fish that are likely to nibble at the featherduster, there are many reef type fish that are acceptable. The featherduster raises its head from the tube slowly but with potential danger can withdraw at high speed.
As can be guessed from the names given featherdusters consist of a tube at the bottom and, when out, a fan of ‘feathers’ at the top. The tube, though reasonably tough, can be damaged by poor handling so as with all species care is required. They are transported home in the same way as other marine species and should not be lifted out of the seawater. When home hang the bag in the aquarium seawater, this will slowly adjust the temperature. To slowly change the seawater in the transport bag an eggcup of bag water should be removed and discarded and replaced by the same amount of aquarium water, have patience and do an eggcup full every few minutes. When the bag water has been changed the featherduster can be placed in the aquarium. The area used should not be where there is a high current flow, though some movement is required. The best way to place the featherduster is to sink the tube into sand, don’t push it in, clear the sand, place the featherduster in position then put the sand back. There is likely to be insufficient depth so one possibility is to create a small square or circle of rocks and fill the hole created with sand. Another method is to fix a suitable plastic tube with a suitable diameter between rocks and place the featherduster worm in that, any plastic showing will soon be covered with marine growth. Any gap between the featherduster and the plastic tube could be filled with sand if there is enough space. Do not sink the featherduster to its full length, leave an inch or two clear at the top. Once the featherduster is in place leave it in peace unless there is clearly a problem. There will be no sign for quite a while but eventually the head will slowly appear.
It has been known for the featherduster to spawn in captivity. Sometimes ‘smoke’ has been seen leaving the head usually in the morning. Following this the head of the featherduster could be ejected. This is not a problem but normal, its thought that this is to stop the head catching its own spawn. Two or three weeks could pass before a small head reappears, this head will grow. Another occasion when the head could be lost is when the head is aggressively disturbed such as by a predator. With this event remove the head from the aquarium but leave the tube in place, all being well after two weeks or so a smaller head will reappear and grow.
Featherduster worms look very fragile and of course by poor handling or unfriendly aquarium companions they can be damaged. However, they are quite tough and undemanding, as said there isn’t any particular light requirement just a need for some seawater flow. When settled these creatures perhaps become the flowers of the aquarium and definitely add to the interest and attractive appearance of the aquarium reef.