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Old 06-08-2014, 03:47 PM
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Dearth Dearth is offline
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Default Bristle Worms

Just some basic education on bristle worms feel free to add to or refute

Almost all of us have done it at least once and it is regularly posted about this alien looking creature in our tank with ugly looking spines and segmented body.

What is it? Is it safe in my reef? Will it attack my critters?

It of course is the infamous Bristle worm. There are many types and species of bristle worm in the wild and invariably at some point in time we will get these in our system the vast majority being harmless except to the unwary who touch them either accidently or grab them unwittingly.

By far the most common type of bristle worm seen is grey in appearance with segmented body and groups of bristles attached to each segment in 2 or 4 locations on each side of the segmented body part. These are its defense mechanism and just like porcupines when threatened they fan out their bristles to make them unappealing and a painful snack. As to eating habits despite their fearsome appearance the vast majority of bristle worms eat only detritus, left over food and the recently deceased only a select few species actually seek out the living one of which is the Enucid Bristle worm but fortunately this is not a common occurrence in the home aquarium.

Just like earthworms they can elongate or contract their bodies and fit into the tiniest of cracks, holes and crevices. A 3 inch long bristle worm can stretch out to 7 inches in length and the same worm can shrink up to about an inch and a half. The worms can also flatten their bodies to about 2 mm in height which is pretty impressive at how versatile the worm is.

Treatment for Bristle worm stings

Every so often someone is unlucky enough to make contact with the bristles and get them impaled usually on your fingers or hand. People have reported feeling everything from a mild sting to full out temporary paralysis however this is quite rare to experience that extreme form of injury. Most people try to pull out the bristles with tweezers which often ends up with bristles broken off inside the affected area while others try to pull them out with their finger tips which is a bad idea. The most common way to remove bristles is with a bowl/cup/pot of vinegar it is suggested to have the vinegar fairly warm(but room temperature works as well) and put the affected body part in the vinegar leaving it there for about a minute the acids in the vinegar will eat away the bristles leaving you usually a red area and possibly swelling but that will go away in short order usually. As with any injury if you see no improvement within a few hrs after the bristles are removed go see your doctor.

My aquarium is nothing but a smorgasbord for my cats.....
Old 06-08-2014, 03:56 PM
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Slyguy00 Slyguy00 is offline
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Awesome write up, very informative. Im sure it will be very helpful to new reefers!
Old 06-08-2014, 04:47 PM
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duncangweller duncangweller is offline
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Thanks for that. That's something that always worries me even though I haven't seen one in a long time

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Old 06-09-2014, 04:06 AM
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I find they're usually not so bad unless you really stick yourself with one good. I've touched dozens, but have only reacted if I've pressed the worm against a hard surface. Getting them around your nail bed is the worst. Swollen fingers for days...
Old 07-20-2014, 07:21 PM
johnnyriker22 johnnyriker22 is offline
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Some of them can get fairly big in the right conditions. Good for cleaning detritus out of tanks though. Great article.


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