Don’t worry about these animals living in and eating your decorated holiday evergreen. The Spirobranchus giganteus – commonly known as the Christmas Tree Worm – are named not for their habitat or diet, but for their appearance!
Christmas Tree Worms don’t live in forests at all, in fact they are marine animals found in tropical reefs worldwide.
While these tube-building polychaete worms, (marine segmented worms) are only about 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) in length, Christmas Tree Worms are easily spotted. Each worm has two characteristic crowns, that come in a wide variety of colors, protruding from their tube bodies.
The crowns are composed of radioles, hair like appendages radiating from their central spine. These are used for breathing and catching food, which consists of microscopic plants – phytoplankton – floating around in the ocean.
These worms can live up to 40 years and are sedentary, meaning they find a spot they like and then don’t move very much. They burrow into corals, like brain coral and Porites, where just their crowns are visible. If startled, they quickly withdraw into their tube bodies to hide from possible predators like crabs and fish.