Tube Worm 

Ficopomatus enigmaticus (Fauvel, 1923)

View scientific description and taxonomy

Scientific Details

Family level description.
Serpulidae are tube-dwelling polychaetes which build and live within calcareous tubes. Apart from one genus of tropical Sabellidae, these are the only polychaete family to construct calcareous tubes, which may be solitary, or in dense aggregations. In almost all serpulids there are 7 thoracic segments bearing chaetae, plus a variable number of abdominal segments. A radiolar crown of feeding tentacles is present, and nearly all serpulids have one tentacle modified to form a variably ornamented operculum which closes the tube when the worm retracts within.

Species level technical description.
Calcareous tube structure transversely ridged or ringed; Projection or process extending over the tube opening present; Comments on tube: white, sometimes covered with brown algae. Pseudoperculum or rudimentary operculum absent. Operculum present, carried on a modified non-pinnulate stalk, circular, sub-triangular or oval in cross-section, smooth. Operculum distal end chitinous; rounded, spherical or cup-shaped. Ornamentation of operculum present (with protuberances projecting from top of operculum), smooth spines or dentate or horny spines, spines curve inwards; paired lateral spinules absent; internal spinules absent; all spines similar in size; Comments on opercular spines: smooth shaft with a hook distally; spines in 1-4 rows. Eye spots on the prostomium or branchial radioles absent. 5-10 pairs of branchial radioles. Pinnule-free tips of the branchial radioles present. Branchial interradiolar membrane absent. Branchial crown radioles arranged in 2 (semi)circles. Pinnules become larger distally; longish pinnule-free tip; radioles are shorter ventrally than dorsally. Collar chaetae present, limbate or marginally coarsely serrate or dentate. 7 thoracic chaetigers. Thoracic membrane present, not connected dorsally. Thoracic sickle notochaetae absent. Abdominal chaetae geniculate (bent like a knee), with dentate margin from bend to tip. Thoracic uncini with few teeth, 6-7 teeth. Thoracic uncini with 1 vertical row of teeth. Shape of anterior peg gouged, seemingly bifid. Anterior abdominal uncini with 1 vertical row of teeth, or with 2 vertical rows of teeth. 1 row anteriorly, 2 rows posteriorly.



General Description

In members of this genus the tube is comprised of flaring smooth trumpet like structures. An inter-radiolar membrane is absent. The operculum is ornamented with a large number of chitinous spines. In this species there is a dorsal projection over the opening of the tube and the chitinous opercular spines cureve inwards. Individuals up to about 4 cm long, colonies may be massive.


This invasive species is widespread in southern Australian estuaries, and in many other locations around the world. Northern Australian records attributed to this species are generally misidentifications; other species of Ficopomatus occur in tropical waters.


Hard substrates such as rocks and pier piles in estuaries.


Coastal shores

Distribution guide

Southern Australia.

Species Group

Worms Tube worms


Shore (0-1 m)

Water Column

On or near sea floor

Max Size

4 cm


Organic matter

Commercial Species


Global Dispersal

Recorded in Australia

Species Code

MoV 3340


Conservation Status

  • DSE Advisory List : Not listed
  • EPBC Act 1999 : Not listed
  • IUCN Red List : Not listed


article author Wilson, R.

Robin Wilson is a Senior Curator of marine invertebrates at Museum Victoria.


Cite this page as:
Wilson, R., 2011, Tube Worm, Ficopomatus enigmaticus, in Taxonomic Toolkit for marine life of Port Phillip Bay, Museum Victoria, accessed 09 Apr 2020,

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