Sanctuary Integrated Monitoring Network
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Species Database

Eudistylia polymorpha - Feather duster worm

Feather duster worm image

Geographic range:

Alaska to southern California

Key features:

Large plume of a single color, usually whitish or golden, and sometimes maroon. Plume retracts very quickly, and a flimsy parchment tube becomes visible, slightly folded at the opening. The closely related Eudistylia vancouveri has transverse banding along the tentacles, which easily differentiates the two species.

Similar species:

Serpula columbiana -- Feather-duster worm
Spirobranchus spinosus -- Christmas tree worm
Eudistylia vancouveri -- Vancouver feather duster worm
Parasabella media -- Parasol worm


bay (rocky shore), exposed rocky shore, kelp forest, protected rocky shore

Primary common name:

Feather duster worm

General grouping:


ITIS code:


Geographic Range

Range Description:

Occurs from Alaska to southern California, but more common in the southern end of range.

Intertidal Height

Lowest intertidal height:

-0.6006006 meters OR -2 feet

Highest intertidal height:

0 meters OR 0 feet

Intertidal height notes:

Found in tide pools, wedged in crevices or under large boulders.

Subtidal Depth Range

Minimum depth:

0 meters OR 0 feet

Maximum depth:

450 meters OR 1498.5 feet

Subtidal depth notes:

Commonly found on rocky substrate.


bay (rocky shore), exposed rocky shore, kelp forest, protected rocky shore

Habitat notes:

Found in rocky habitats, particularly crevices. Uncommon in sand although its congener E. vancouveri is more often seen in sandy areas adjacent to reefs in central California.


Relative abundance:

Common in central California.

Species Description

General description:

The obvious feature of this polychaete worm is the large branchial plume, which is a cluster of elongate tentacles that serve as both gills and feeding structure. The tentacles are uniform in color (usually golden, white, or maroon). The tube is made of protein and has a parchment-like consistency, collapsing at the rim as the worm quickly retracts the plume.

Distinctive features:

Large plume that quickly retracts if disturbed. Tentacles are 1-4 cm long and highly branched along a main axis. The large plume of tentacles are uniform in color. The parchment tube is flimsy and white or tan when not overgrown with other organisms.


Body up to 25 cm long, although usually only a few cm of the tube is visible. Plume diameter can be 5 cm.

Natural History

General natural history:

The large plume of Eudistylia serves two functions: respiration and feeding. The tentacles are covered with hundreds of cilia that generate a tiny, localized current. Water and suspended particles are swept into the tentacles where they are captured in mucus and then conveyed along the main axis of the tentacle towards the mouth.

The tentacles also bear small, light-sensitive structures that react to changes in light. Shadows and pressure waves cause the worm to rapidly retract the tentacles into the protective cover of the tube. This rapid withdrawal reduces predation on the vulnerable tentacles. The tube extends will into the back of crevices and the entire worm is rarely ever observed.


Fishes may attempt to bite the plume tentacles. It is not known which species prey upon feather duster worms. However, if the entire worm is exposed, as when rocks are dislodged during storms, their parchment tubes provide no protection from scavenging crabs and carnivorous snails.


Feather duster worms feed on suspended particles, including detritus and plankton.

Feeding behavior

Omnivore, Sessile suspension feeder

Feeding behavior notes:

The worm uses cilia to move water through the plume of tentacles, ensnaring particles with both the cilia and with mucus that is secreted. The slime with trapped particles then moves down the tentacle to the mouth, with some sorting taking place.

January - December


We do not know of any seasonal behavior in reproduction or feeding.
Click on an image below to view a larger version in the SIMoN Photo Library. You will also be able to view important information on each photo such as photographer, date, caption and more.
Lamb, A. and B. P. Hanby. 2005. Marine life of the Pacific Northwest. Harbour Publishing. 398 p.
Morris, R.H., D.P Abbott, and E.C. Haderlie. 1980. Intertidal Invertebrates of California. Stanford University Press, Stanford, California. 690 p.