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Image of Christmas tree worm , courtesy of ETI Bioinformatics from Interactive Guide to Caribbean Diving
Christmas tree worm (Spirobranchus giganteus) [Photo: Interactive Guide to Caribbean Diving, ETI Bioinformatics]

Spirobranchus giganteus is a sedentary polycheate worm of the family Serpulidae, or tube-building worms.  Each Christmas tree worm has two brightly colored crowns (resembling Christmas trees) that protrude from its tube-like body, which are used for respiration and to catch prey.

 Phylum: Annelida (Segmented Worms)

The phylum Annelida consists of over 9000 species of burrowing, segmented worms. Annelids are characterized by a long body cavity (coelom) divided into many repeating body segments with bristly hairs or "chaetae" attached. Polychaeata (marine worms) is the largest group of Annelids, with over 8000 species.

Image of split-crown feather duster (Anamobaea orstedii), courtesy of Interactive Guide to Caribbean Diving, ETI Bioinformatics
Split-crown featherduster (Anamobaea orstedii) [Photo: Interactive Guide to Caribbean Diving, ETI Bioinformatics

Polycheates exist in all saltwater habitats from shallow, intertidal pools to the deep ocean and  comprise a large amount of marine biomass. This group has parapodia or paddle-like appendages with many chaetae attached, that are used for walking and swimming. Polycheates also grip with the chaetae and burrow using repeated muscle contractions or "peristalsis."

Polychaetes generally reproduce sexually but can also reproduce asexually, via budding or "epitoky". Epitoky occurs when the tail end of the worm grows eyes and gonads and breaks away from the body into a new individual called an epitoke, which is then capable of reproduction.

(Information from Gulf of Mexico Origin, Waters, and Biota: Volume 1, Biodiversity, Texas A&M University Press 2009).

Other Resources:

UC Berkeley, Museum of Paleontology, Annelids


Image of Polychaeta (Lanassa spp.) courtesy of Kritzler, 1984, from Gulf of Mexico Origin, Waters, and Biota, Chapter 37, Page 751
Lanassa spp. [Image: After Kritzler, 1984, Gulf of Mexico Origin, Waters, and Biota, Chapter 37, Page 751]

The genus Lanassa is a member of the Terebellidae family of polycheate worms.  Terebellid worms are known as spaghetti worms because of spaghetti-like prostomial tentacles located in front of their mouth.

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