The Spaghetti Worm is the common name for several species of polychaete worms that live in sand or mud tubes in the intertidal and shallow subtidal zones from Alaska to southern California. They are members of a polychaete worm family called Terebellidae characterized by having movable tentacles in the head area that are not withdrawn into the mouth. The white, string-like tentacles can be extended many times the body length over the surface of the sediment searching for particles of food. Captured food items are moved to the mouth along ciliated grooves.
They usually form their tubes under or nestled against rocks or other larger, hard objects including mussels on floats. This two inch specimen (they can grow to 6 inches or more) was removed from it’s protective mud tube to show the body segments. Notice just under the base of the white tentacles on the left side of the head is a small red mass which is part of the branching gill system that supplies the animal with oxygen.
Polychaete worms are a major group of multi-segmented animals that, along with garden earthworms and leeches, are members of the Phylum Annelida of the animal kingdom. Predominantly marine, they are commonly seen on marina floats or burrowed in beach sediments. The body segments often contain twin parapodia which are fleshy protrusions, bearing stiff bristles, used for both respiration and locomotion. Polychaeta means many-bristled.