Often overlooked, or worse, looked upon as a problem to be dealt with, a great many of the worms that do find their way into our aquariums as hitch hikers are often the unsung heros of the clean up crew. The majority of the time, I think such attitudes towards such worms stems from the fact that they create an "icky" factor when seen, such prejudice leads to them being labeled as bad or being unfairly accused of causing other problems.
Besides being execllent at cleaning up around the house, they also provide a great deal of free live food for the majority of the other aquarium inhabitants through their spawning. Many corals and even fish will find a good deal of free, live food while the worms also clean up after the corals and fish as well.
Below are just a few of the many examples of worm families that can and will be of great benefit to any system. All of which are harmless to all other inhabitants of a typical reef aquarium.
Cirratulids (aka hair worms) are deposit feeders which gather food from the sea bottom by means of their palps. They are sluggish worms which bury themselves below the surface of sea bottoms leaving only their gills and palps visible. Some are free-living and inhabit tubes, while others are capable of burrowing through corals, shell or rock.
Sipunculida (aka peanut worms) are another of the many detrivores that spend their time mopping up excess detritus and left over food particles.
The Bristleworms, a great many species which are most always the backbone of any clean up crew. This family of worms is by far, the most often to be wrongly accused of causing problems within aquariums. While at times, their populations may seem to "explode", and appear to be becoming a problem, this would of course be your fault. Such population explosions most always indicate that the aquarium is being fed too much food, which as any animal will do, they take advantage of such an envrionment and swell their levels to match the exsisting food supply.
The Capitellidae, they appear and behave much like the earthworms found in your backyard garden. Injesting soft muddy substrates to gather and inject any organic materials.
The Dorvilleidae, members of this family are much smaller than most of the more larger, visible families and pose no real threat to other life in our aquariums. They will appear as very small white lines on the glass of our aquariums and are very common. Each specimen that I have examined under a microscope appears to be gut loaded with algae.
The Terebellidae (aka spaghetti worms), One of the most commonly found worms that hitch in with live rock and sand and soon become very valuable members of any system. Usualy the only visible signs of their presence are when they extend their feeding tentacles out across the rocks and sand to mop up and organic debris.
There are of course a great many other worms families / species that are not only of great service to our aquariums, but also increase ones enjoyment of having a reef aquariums that contains so much more than just corals and fish. For Identification of worms, please see the relevant section of the Hitch Hiker page as found off of the "info links" menu.
Used by permission. Many thanks to Charlies and Linda Raabe for their support. www.chucksaddiction.com