As the holiday season draws near, we frequently think of cheery accents, sparkling lights, and of course, the traditional Christmas tree. However, did you know that there is a little, vibrant organism in the ocean that remarkably resembles a festive Christmas tree? Discover the unique marine creature known as the Christmas tree worm (Spirobranchus giganteus), which gives the ocean’s coral reefs a festive flair.
Christmas Tree Worm Habitat
The tropical waters of the world are home to the Christmas tree worm. The species is common but was long believed to only exist in coral heads, but has now been discovered elsewhere, such as on a kind of giant clam. Between the Caribbean and the oceans of the Indo-Pacific, their habitat has been seen. The vibrant marine worm prefers shallow waters to deeper ones.
The coral expands to form a tube around the worm as it grows and settles on the coral as a newborn larva. The worm will spend most of its life in this location. Except when it feels threatened, the worm’s bristles and legs (parapodia) normally remain outside the tube. The body of the worm is typically twice as apparent above the coral.
Lifespan & Reproduction
A Christmas tree worm can live for about 40 years in a clean environment. They typically survive between 10 and 20 years because of predation and climatic change.
To reproduce, worms will release eggs and sperm into the water, respectively. The gametes are produced in their abdominal segments, and the gametes fertilize the eggs independently of the female worm. They become broadcast spawners thanks to this reproductive procedure.
The eggs become larvae within 24 hours of fertilization, then float with zooplankton for 9–12 days as they grow into larvae. When the larvae land on some coral, they create a mucus tube that eventually turns into a calcareous one, and the organisms develop into Christmas tree worms.
Weight & Length
Christmas tree worms can grow up to 1.5 inches in diameter and 1.5 inches in length on average. They are so tiny that they only weigh a few ounces. Many people don’t develop past one inch.
Food & Diet
The Christmas tree worm consumes by using its radioles to capture ciliates, zooplankton, organic debris, phytoplankton, and other food particles. The meal is delivered to the worm’s mouth by the radioles’ dense cilia.
Since they use their radioles to filter the best bacteria for them to ingest, their feeding mechanism is also known as filter feeding.
Climate Change & Global Warming
Despite the fact that people provide a negligible direct hazard, climate change is harmful to their health. The acidification of seawater brought on by human-caused carbon emissions makes it more difficult for Christmas tree worms to form their calcareous tubes and reproduce.
Unhealthy coral reefs might result from improperly maintained underwater environments, which would affect the worms. Reefs offer them a place to live and food, and Christmas tree worms drive away starfish that would otherwise eat the coral. A neighboring marine worm population may also help damaged coral reefs recover more quickly.
If their reef is destroyed, these marine worms can still survive on their own. They will take some time hunting for another place to live because they lack the limbs needed for an active lifestyle. According to some tales, they occasionally subsist in Thailand on a species of enormous clam.
Fun Facts About Christmas Tree Worms
- The colorful radioles, which are stunning crowns, filter microscopic creatures and plants for food as they pump water over them. With the help of their cilia and sticky mucus, the plumes trap prey.
- The coral homes of the Christmas tree worms are particular. Some coral types may help with reproduction and draw fewer predators, according to scientific speculation. These worms pick their coral, and the coral then builds a home for them!
- Two-thirds of the worms’ bodies are concealed in calcium carbonate tubes. Although their bodies are only 1.5 inches long, their tubes can reach a length of 10 inches.
- The same parts—their radioles—are used by Christmas tree worms for both eating and breathing. In addition to catching, sorting, and delivering food right to the mouth, these crowns also capture oxygen.