Out of water all that can be seen of the peacock worm is it’s leathery tube sticking out of the muddy sand. But when it is covered by water the worm expands its feathery tentacles into a fan like a peacock’s tail. The peacock worm uses it’s beautiful crown of tentacles to catch particles of food floating in the water. It eats small particles and uses larger bits mixed up with mucus (or spit) to build its tube. The worm’s tentacles disappear in a flash down into the tube if the animal is disturbed.
It is found in soft muddy sand on the lower shore and in shallow water, particularly in areas like the Bar at Helford Passage. They are very sensitive to changes in both sedimentation and water movements so are good indicators of what is happening in the marine environment.
The peacock worm's crown of tentacles. Image: Tony Sutton
The peacock worm Sabella pavonina. Image: Tony Sutton
'Leathery' tubes of Sabella pavonina, as seen out of the water. Image: Pamela Tompsett