"Sea worm" as a term is actually used to describe a variety of worms and wormlike creatures who inhabit our oceans. Like their Crustacean relatives the lobster, many of these worms have developed to the harsher environment of the ocean through a variety of protective measures.
- The Christmas tree worm (Spirobranchus giganteus), so named for the treelike arrangement of its gills, are usually found living in rocks and coral in colonies, and rarely move away during their life time. Despite their colorful tops, the creatures use very sensitive feelers to detect both predators and food - scooping in nutrients from the water and retracting into their homemade cave when provoked.
- The "feather duster" (Sabellastarte magnifica common along the United States coast) has a large, slithery tube encasing it and protecting it from harm. It gets its name from its featherlike gills on top of its tube, that is uses to acquire nutrients. It's not hard to find feather dusters in the Gulf of Mexico, as their bright colors are always a dead giveaway.
- One of few constantly moving sea worms, the fireworm (Eurythoe complanata) uses its powerful stinging bristles to paralyze and kill tiny organisms in the water. If you step on one or come across one, the itching sensation from the wound can last for up to 8 weeks!
- The Red-rimmed flatworm (Pseudoceros splendidus) can often be seen floating among the current a la seahorses. Named for their flat shape (from the top, they look like pieces of chewing gum making their way across the ocean), the worm's sole defense is actually its predominant purple color - reminding predators of the foul taste of the creature.
Sea worms play a major role in the fishing industry - as bait. Due to their impressive size and weight, sea worms often get top dollar at the local bait shop. All along New England are small "worm farms" just off the coast, where every day during the spring, summer, and fall, waders march in and retrieve hundreds of worms for sale. Recently, controversy struck when a large company called Seabait proposed a way to cultivate the worms in a large self-contained farm. Threatening to drive several worm diggers into bankruptcy, the company has turned what was a small supply-driven industry into a large demand-driven one, providing over 500,000 pounds of sea worm to fisheries across the world each year. While the debate rages on, it seems for now that the worm has indeed turned.