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Thread: [ KB ] Bristleworms/Fireworms Friend or Foe

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    [ KB ] Bristleworms / Fireworms Friend or Foe

    Bristleworms/Fireworms Friend or Foe

    Donated by Cathyj on 4/14/2006

    I will use Bristleworms to reference both Bristleworms and Fireworms.
    Bristleworms range in size from small (about 1" long) up to very large
    at about 20" in length. Most small ones are an orange color, sometime
    appearing two-tone in color. Larger bristleworms are frequently gray or
    brownish in color. Bristleworms are composed of many segments and have
    bristles (setae) which extend from both sides of its body along its entire
    length, hence their common name. These setae are clearly visible in the picture
    above. Their bodies produce red blood, and many species have hemoglobin.
    Bristle worms live in the sand or within the live rock, their larvae mostly
    float in the plankton. They are nocturnal and not usually seen during the day.

    Toxic Sting:
    Bristleworms are toxic, if you discover worms in your tank that look like
    wooly- caterpillars, don't touch them with your bare hands! Use a pair of
    latex rubber gloves to protect yourself from a painful sting. If you do touch
    bristleworms, the long, hollow and brittle setae usually break off and embed
    themselves into your fingers. Once imbedded the setae cause inflammation, irritation,
    itching and numbness from the toxin they contain. If you do get stung by a
    bristleworm, DO NOT rub or scratch the injured area, you'll only make it worse,
    and possibly spread the irritation. Use a piece of masking or duct tape to
    carefully remove all the bristles you can, and then soak the affected area with
    rubbing alcohol, or better yet, a dilute ammonia solution (10 parts water to 1 part
    household ammonia). If available, meat tenderizer is supposed to work
    exceptionally well, but I have never tried this myself.

    Good or Bad?:
    Originally bristleworms were all considered to be bad. Most literature warns
    that they can attack and eat clams, anemones, corals and even fish.
    Recently, most hobbyists have come to the conclusion that small bristle
    worms pose no threat to other tank inhabitants and are in fact good scavengers
    and add to the biodiversity of the tank. The worms as well as their larva also
    serve as a food source for larger invertebrates and fish. You can even buy
    bristleworms from some sources. Large bristleworms are starting to be better
    understood also. Some large bristleworms can be aggressive predators, however,
    this is not the norm. Many large bristleworms seem to fall into the harmless
    scavenger category.

    Look for bristle worms at night with a flashlight to see if they are present
    in your tank. Feeding the tank in the evening will sometimes cause them to come
    out and feed. Capturing large bristleworms, can be difficult. They are primarily
    nocturnal but will come out when you feed the tank. They should not be captured by
    hand due to the toxins in their setae which can puncture the skin. One way to capture
    them is to place a rock with a hollow on the bottom side onto the sand in the
    evening. Put a piece of shrimp into the hollow to as bait. The next day the rock
    can be removed and the worms will come out with the rock. There are also traps
    available on the market. There are also some biological controls. Several species
    of Wrasses, Copperbanded Butterflyfish, Banded Coral Shrimp and Arrow Crabs are all
    suppose to eat bristleworms, but I doubt that they will eat the large ones which are
    the only ones to possibly be concerned about. My recommendation is to leave them
    alone unless you have reason to believe they are causing damage. Also be aware that
    when an animal, such as a clam dies, the bristle worms will frequently feed on the
    carcass as will any scavenger. Many people misunderstand that the worms are only
    scavenging and falsely assume that the worms killed the clam or other specimen.
    Last edited by Hotrod; 12-08-2006 at 12:29 PM.
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