BIOTIC Species Information for Sabellaria alveolata
Researched byAngus Jackson Data supplied byMarLIN
Refereed byProf. S. J. Hawkins
Scientific nameSabellaria alveolata Common nameHoneycomb worm
MCS CodeP1116 Recent SynonymsNone

PhylumAnnelida Subphylum
Superclass ClassPolychaeta
Subclass OrderTerebellida
Suborder FamilySabellariidae
GenusSabellaria Speciesalveolata

Additional InformationAt low densities tubes are attached to the substratum along the entire length but at greater densities competition for space results in the tubes overlapping and may cause the tubes to be built outwards, away from the substrate. Tube colour varies according to the colour of sand grains
Taxonomy References Wilson, 1969, Wilson, 1929, Howson & Picton, 1997, Cunningham et al., 1984, Campbell, 1994, Gruet, 1985,
General Biology
Growth formTubicolous
Vermiform segmented
Feeding methodActive suspension feeder
Mobility/MovementPermanent attachment
Environmental positionEpifaunal
Typical food typesSeston HabitTubiculous
BioturbatorNot relevant FlexibilityNone (< 10 degrees)
FragilityIntermediate SizeSmall-medium(3-10cm)
HeightReefs can be 1m high Growth Rate12 cm reef/year
Adult dispersal potentialNone DependencyIndependent
General Biology Additional InformationSize refers to individual worms. It is typically gregarious forming colonies of sheets, hummocks or reefs. In Cornwall, their tubes are up to 20 cm in length and around 5 mm in diameter at the external opening. Each tube has an additional porch over the opening. In northern France, the tubes were reported to grow in length at 12 cm/year.

This species appears to be favoured by elevated winter temperatures associated with cooling water discharges (Bamber & Irving, 1997) but growth is inhibited below 5 C

Communities associated with Sabellaria alveolata are not particularly remarkable being species poor on young dense reef and up to 38 species on older reefs. Honeycomb worm aggregations that bind together mobile cobbles increase heterogeneity.
Biology References Wilson, 1969, Gruet, 1986, Wilson, 1929, Cunningham et al., 1984, Wilson, 1971, Campbell, 1994, Gruet, 1985, Holt et al., 1998, Bamber & Irving, 1997,
Distribution and Habitat
Distribution in Britain & IrelandIn Britain, most abundant on the south and west coasts with isolated records from the south east and east coasts. The northern limit is the Outer Hebrides. It is also found on south, west and north coasts of Ireland.
Global distributionMediterranean, north Atlantic south to Morocco. The British Isles form the northern limits of the distribution in the north east Atlantic
Biogeographic rangeNot researched Depth rangeMTL - 10 metres
MigratoryNon-migratory / Resident   
Distribution Additional InformationThe honeycomb worm appears to be absent from many exposed peninsulas, probably due to the effects of water movement on recruitment.

Substratum preferencesBedrock
Large to very large boulders
Small boulders
Physiographic preferencesOpen coast
Biological zoneMid Eulittoral
Lower Eulittoral
Sublittoral Fringe
Upper Infralittoral
Wave exposureVery Exposed
Moderately Exposed
Tidal stream strength/Water flowStrong (3-6 kn)
Moderately Strong (1-3 kn)
SalinityFull (30-40 psu)
Habitat Preferences Additional InformationAlthough a hard substratum is required for attachment, there needs to be adequate sand or small shell particles from which to construct the tubes.

It is typically found in the low intertidal but occasionally found subtidally (e.g. in the Severn estuary). It typically colonizes bedrock or large boulders but in some sites binds together small cobbles in a complex with mussels.

It has a strong settlement preference for adult tubes or sites currently or previously used by the species.
Distribution References Cunningham et al., 1984, Campbell, 1994, Hayward et al., 1996, Holt et al., 1998, NBN, 2002, JNCC, 1999, Picton & Costello, 1998,
Reproduction/Life History
Reproductive typeGonochoristic
Developmental mechanismPlanktotrophic
Reproductive SeasonJuly Reproductive LocationInsufficient information
Reproductive frequencyAnnual episodic Regeneration potential No
Life span3-5 years Age at reproductive maturity<1 year
Generation timeInsufficient information Fecundity12,000 - 225,000 oocytes per female
Egg/propagule sizeInsufficient information Fertilization typeInsufficient information
Larval/Juvenile dispersal potential>10km Larval settlement periodInsufficient information
Duration of larval stage1-6 months   
Reproduction Preferences Additional InformationMost individuals have a lifespan of 3 to 5 years but there are records for 7 and even 9 year old individuals. Sabellaria alveolata reefs undergo cycles of development and decay over a period of a few years. Although individual reefs come and go - areas that are good for Sabellaria alveolata tend to remain so.

Spawning occurs each July but actual recruitment levels vary considerably from year to year. Larvae spend between 6 weeks and 6 months in the plankton.

Reproduction References Wilson, 1969, Wilson, 1929, Wilson, 1971, Gruet & Lassus, 1983, Gruet, 1985, Holt et al., 1998, Gruet & Lassus, 1983,
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