Serpula vermicularis Linnaeus, 1767
Common name(s): Calcareous tubeworm, Plume worm, Fan worm, Limy tube worm, Red tube worm
|Synonyms: Serpula columbiana|
|A large Serpula vermicularis on a rock picked up subtidally near Rosario. Total tube length about 12 cm and nearly 1 cm diameter.|
|(Photo by: Dave Cowles)|
How to Distinguish from Similar Species: This very common species is the only local serpulid with the reddish plumes and a funnel-shaped, symmetrical operculum with no protuberances. It is also the only species of large serpulid found in our area. Spirorbids are small and have a strongly coiled tube.
Geographical Range: Cosmopollitan: Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian oceans, Mediterranean Sea, North Sea. Alaska to Baja California on our coast. Although this species occurs in Europe, it is not found on the east coast of the United States.
Depth Range: Intertidal to 100 m
Habitat: Attached to the undersides of rocks in the intertidal, on floats, or on any surface of subtidal rocks.
Biology/Natural History: This species has two white calcium sacs near the midventral line on the posterior end of the peristomium. The sacs store calcium from a pair of glands which open on the "ventral shields" which are wide glandular pads on the ventral side of the anterior thoracic segments. The ventral shields probably secrete organic material and use this, combined with the calcium, to form a paste from which the tube is made. The tube appears to be shaped by the ventral shields and by a collar which is just behind the head. The tubes are made of both calcite and aragonite. The operculum is cartilaginous and secretes mucus, which seems to be both antibiotic and prevents fouling. The blood of this species, as with most species of serpulids and sabellids, contains chlorocruorin. Chlorocruorin has a very strong affinity for carbon monoxide--570 times as much as human hemoglobin has. This may partly explain why this worm may settle on some seaweed such as Fucus but seems to avoid Nereocystis. The pneumocysts of Nereocystis are inflated with carbon monoxide, which would probably be strongly toxic to these worms. The circulatory system of this species is unusual. It has a ventral blood vessel which moves blood posteriorly, but blood moves anteriorly through a sinus that surrounds the gut. Blood flow into peripheral parts is tidal.
The animal is a filter feeder. Predators include Pisaster ochraceous. Sexes are separate. Eggs and sperm are released into the water.
This is the "type species" for genus Serpula and Family Serpulidae. Note that it was originally described by Linnaeus. Serpulids feed by extending featherlike radioles, which also function as gills. The blood circulation within the radiole is unusual. Instead of having one-way flow through afferent and efferent vessels within the radiole, there is a single branchial vessel which blood flows in and out of. Serpulids possess giant nerve fibers running down their body which allows them to retract rapidly into their tube if disturbed.
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Johnson and Snook, 1955 (as Serpula columbiana)
McConnaughey and McConnaughey, 1985
Morris et al., 1980
Ricketts et al., 1985
Anterior appendages include the abundant radioles seen here. Behind the radioles to the bottom left the lighter red, funnel-shaped operculum can be seen.
This tiny individual, with a tube less than 1/2 cm long, is attached to a bryozoan. Note the coiling of the tube in tiny individuals such as this. The funnel-shaped operculum is visible to the left of the radioles.
The gray, forklike object projecting down to the left from one of the coils is a tiny phoronid worm about 2 mm long. Cilia on the worm's forked lophophore are beating strongly.