BIOTIC Species Information for Serpula vermicularis
Researched byLizzie Tyler Data supplied byUniversity of Sheffield
Refereed byThis information is not refereed.
Scientific nameSerpula vermicularis Common nameA tubeworm
MCS CodeP1343 Recent SynonymsNone

PhylumAnnelida Subphylum
Superclass ClassPolychaeta
Subclass OrderSabellida
Suborder FamilySerpulidae
GenusSerpula Speciesvermicularis

Additional InformationNone entered
Taxonomy References Howson & Picton, 1997, Hayward & Ryland, 1995b, Hayward et al., 1996, Holt et al., 1998, Fish & Fish, 1996,
General Biology
Growth formVermiform segmented
Feeding methodPassive suspension feeder
Active suspension feeder
Mobility/MovementPermanent attachment
Environmental positionEpifaunal
Typical food typesDetritus HabitTubiculous
BioturbatorNot relevant FlexibilityInsufficient information
FragilityFragile SizeSmall-medium(3-10cm)
HeightSee additional text Growth Ratemean of 9 mm of tube/month
Adult dispersal potentialNone DependencyIndependent
General Biology Additional InformationThe tube is attached to hard substrata at the base but in reef aggregations is often free for much of its length. Height above the substratum varies but in reefs individual tubes may reach up to 18 cm, while the reefs themsleves vary between 75 cm and 2 m in hieght (Holt et al., 1998). Sociability
Dense aggregations of Serpula vermicularis tubes occur in enclosed and sheltered locations. These dense settlements of larvae on adult tubes may indicate larval gregarity but Bosence (1979(b)) suggests that aggregations only occur in locations with larval retention and few other hard substrates available for larval settlement. In the open marine environment Serpula vermicularis is not normally gregarious.

Serpula vermicularis is a suspension feeder that can actively create its own feeding current and so can inhabit areas with little water movement.

Biology References Holt et al., 1998, Fish & Fish, 1996, Bosence, 1979(b), Heidi Tillin, unpub data,
Distribution and Habitat
Distribution in Britain & IrelandDistributed mainly around the north-west coast of Scotland. Also present on the north-east coast of England and the north-west coast of Ireland with scattered records around much of the coast of Britain and Ireland.
Global distributionThought to be distributed in the north east Atlantic and the Mediterranean.
Biogeographic rangeNot researched Depth range
MigratoryNon-migratory / Resident   
Distribution Additional InformationGlobal distribution
Although it is reported that Serpula vermicularis has a world-wide distribution, there is a great deal of taxonomic confusion and it is currently thought that the species is limited to the north east Atlantic and the Mediterranean (Holt et al., 1998). There is also the possibility that within the Mediterranean it is actually part of a complex of two or three species (ten Hove pers. comm. cited in Holt et al., 1998).

Substratum preferencesOther species (see additional information)
Artificial (e.g. metal/wood/concrete)
Biogenic reef
Large to very large boulders
Small boulders
Physiographic preferencesOpen coast
Offshore seabed
Strait / sound
Biological zoneSublittoral Fringe
Upper Infralittoral
Lower Infralittoral
Upper Circalittoral
Lower Circalittoral
Circalittoral Offshore
Wave exposureModerately Exposed
Very Sheltered
Tidal stream strength/Water flowWeak (<1 kn)
SalinityFull (30-40 psu)
Habitat Preferences Additional InformationNone entered
Distribution References Hayward & Ryland, 1995b, Hayward et al., 1996, Holt et al., 1998, Fish & Fish, 1996, Hayward & Ryland, 1995b,
Reproduction/Life History
Reproductive typeGonochoristic
Developmental mechanismPlanktotrophic
Reproductive SeasonSummer months Reproductive LocationInsufficient information
Reproductive frequency Regeneration potential No
Life span3-5 years Age at reproductive maturity1 year
Generation timeInsufficient information Fecundity
Egg/propagule size Fertilization typeInsufficient information
Larval/Juvenile dispersal potentialInsufficient information Larval settlement periodSee additional text
Duration of larval stage   
Reproduction Preferences Additional InformationAge at maturity and life span
Orton (1914) observed that ten month old individuals of Serpula vermicularis in the south west of England could successfully reproduce.
Larval settling time
The length of the planktonic stage is unknown but comparison with other serpulid species suggests it may be between six days and two months (Holt et al., 1998).
Spawning season
Spawning seems to occur in the summer. In the Clyde area Elmhirst (1922) observed spawning to occur in June to August and in Plymouth ripe individuals were seen in August and September (Allen, 1915).
Reproduction References Holt et al., 1998, Fish & Fish, 1996, Allen, 1915, Bosence, 1979(b), Orton, 1914, Elmhirst, 1922, Heidi Tillin, unpub data,
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