Peacock worm (Sabella pavonina)

GenusSabella (1)
SizeWidth: 4 cm (2)
Length: 30 cm (2)

Common and widespread (2).

The peacock worm (also known as the fan worm) (1) lives in a tough, membranous tube, which is covered in particles of mud (3). This flexible tube may reach up to 10cm above the sand (2). The head of the worm emerges from the tube in order to feed; a beautiful crown of feathery tentacles banded with purple, brown or red (3) is extended during feeding (2). The body of the worm, hidden by the tube, is greyish-purple or yellowish orange in colour (3).

Has a wide distribution and is common in many areas around the coastline of Britain (2). It is also widely distributed around the coasts of north-west Europe (3).

Occurs on stones in mud and sand (2) on the lower shore and below (3).

Peacock worms often occur in large numbers. They provide habitats for other marine species, and may be found with sponges, seaweeds and ascidians (sea squirts) attached to them (3). Tiny hair-like structures on the tentacles known as 'cilia' filter suspended particles from the water. These particles are then sorted according to size; small ones are eaten, large ones are discarded and medium-sized particles are added to the top of the tube with mucus in order to increase its length (3).

In this species, the sexes are separate (some worms are 'hermaphroditic'), and breeding takes place in spring and summer (3). Unlike the sedentary, attached adults, the larval stage is planktonic, drifting in the sea for a time before settling on the substrate (3).

Not currently threatened.

No conservation action has been targeted at this species.

For more on this species see the Marine Life Information Network species account, available from:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. National Biodiversity Network Species Dictionary (January, 2003)
  2. Avant, P. (2002) Sabella pavonia. Peacock worm. Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Sub-programme [on-line]. Plymouth:Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. (November, 2002)
  3. Fish, J.D. and Fish, S. (1996) A student's guide to the seashore. Second Edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.