Northern Feather Duster Worm of the Pacific Northwest
Northern feather duster worms live in tough brownish to white tubes that can grow to about 25 cm in length. These tubes are made by mucous secretions mixed with sand grains.
They have retractable feathery appendages at the tubes end that are used to capture food and act as gills for gas exchange. These green and maroon appendages quickly retract whenever their eye-spots sense a shadow, which they assume may be a predator. Northern feather duster worms generally form large communities of numerous individuals.
The feather like appendages that give this worm its name are tentacles that are tightly weaved together, like feathers on a bird. The worm spreads its plumes and captures plankton with them. The plankton travels down grooves in the side of the worm that get smaller the closer it gets to the mouth, this allows only plankton small enough for them to eat reaches the mouth parts.
The feather duster worm is fertilized externally and depending on the species they will either brood eggs or spawn freely. (In the latter case, the eggs are deposited in gelatinous masses either on the parent’s tube or on the seafloor.) Once the eggs are released, they float freely for three to four weeks before settling down to start life as a tube like worm.
When l was a young lad, my friends and i would head down to the old government wharf in Campbell River, the one with the net loft on the end and we would fish for cod and sea perch. Now the best bait for these fish was feather duster worms. You could find them by the thousands, growing just underneath the wharf fingers. You had to lay down on the dock and slowly reach towards the worms. When you were in striking range, you would lunge your hand forward and before the worms could retreat into their tubes, you would grab one and pull him out. They would be around 25 cm long and you could cut them up into small bait size chunks. The cod would go nuts for these worms.