All About Bristle Worms

Bristleworms ( bristle worms) are segmented worms with bristly clumps growing from each part. 

They can extend huge, up to 24 inches in a tank, but most are between 1 and 6 inches long. 

They are night and remain in or under a live rock or in the tank substrate. 

You may never catch a bristle worm in your tank unless you peek for them at night with a flashlight or disclose them by driving rock or returning the substrate.

What Is a Bristleworm?

Associates of the annelid family, the term bristle worm encompasses more than 10,000 species. 

They’re generally seen in the ocean (and occasionally freshwater); they’re represented by segmented bodies with bristle-like bumps called chaetae along their sides.

Identifying Bristleworms

If you imagine you have bristle worms, the first thing to do is positively identify what type they are. They reproduce rapidly, and some are carnivorous, so they may require to come out. Some classes are helpful, but those that are not can, if left alone, overrun your tank and cause irritation and other problems for your tank inhabitants.


Do not touch bristle worms with bare hands. Their bristles are very thin and embedded in your skin, causing a severe itch.

Beneficial Bristleworms

Bristleworms may look unsightly and a little creepy, but most are appropriate for your tank if they are not the deadly type. 

Bristleworms are mainly scavengers and down uneaten food, detritus, and carrion in a saltwater aquarium. 

They down materials in your tank that would otherwise deteriorate and produce ammonia, counting to the load that your biological filter must process. 

Some people think that a bristle worm in their tank has destroyed a fish when they see the bristle worm chowing down on a carcass. 

But in most circumstances, the fish was already dead or near death when the bristle worm decided to make a meal. The stinging types of bristle worms, such as fireworms, are oddities. 

Fireworms have been learned to attack relatively healthy fish (usually small ones) at dusk when the fish is napping in a crack or crevice of live rock.

Getting Rid of Bristleworms

Obtaining rid of bristle worms in a reef tank with a lot of live rock can be difficult and time-consuming. 

There are genuine predators of bristle worms that can work quite well in a tank. These contain:

  • Dottyback
  • Wrasse of the Halichoeres family
  • Bird Wrasse 
  • Maori Wrasse 
  • Sunset Wrasse 
  • Coral Banded Shrimp 
  • Arrow Crab 

While this choice is trendy, caution is recommended.
An introduced predator will eat the destroying worms, but species such as these will eat seductive inverts and crustaceans.
Once the bristle worms have been consumed, the new predators in your tank will have to be dealt with to preserve the desirable invertebrates in your tank.

If you have bristle worms lodged in cracks and holes of your live rock, simply removing each piece of stone from the tank and dropping it in a pail of dechlorinated freshwater for only a few moments usually result in the worms flowing out of the rock and into the bottom of the bucket.

If the offending bristle worms are seen underneath your live rock, they can usually be gathered up with a pair of tweezers or tongs and disposed of.

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