Peacock worm (Sabella pavonina)

Peacock worm
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Peacock worm fact file

Peacock worm description

GenusSabella (1)

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).

Width: 4 cm (2)
Length: 30 cm (2)

Peacock worm biology

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).


Peacock worm range

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).

You can view distribution information for this species at the National Biodiversity Network Atlas.

Peacock worm habitat

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


Peacock worm status

Common and widespread (2).


Peacock worm threats

Not currently threatened.


Peacock worm conservation

No conservation action has been targeted at this species.

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
There may be further information about this species available via the National Biodiversity Network Atlas.

Find out more

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



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Possessing both male and female sex organs.
Of the stage in an animal's lifecycle after it hatches from the egg. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but usually are unable to reproduce.
Aquatic organisms that drift with water movements; may be either phytoplankton (plants), or zooplankton (animals).


  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.

Image credit

Peacock worm  
Peacock worm

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