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worms > Phylum Annelida > Class Polychaeta
Solitary tubeworm
Diopatra sp.*
Family Onuphidae
updated Oct 2016
Where seen? Like rubber hoses sticking out of the ground, the sturdy tubes of this worm are commonly seen on all our shores including sandy shores near seagrass areas and soft silty areas near mangroves. The tubes are usually spaced apart from one another.

What are solitary tubeworms? Solitary tubeworms are segmented bristleworms belonging to the Family Onuphidae, Class Polychaeta, Phylum Annelida. The polychaetes include bristleworms, and Phylum Annelida includes the more familiar earthworm. Most members of the Family Onuphidae build tubes. Some of them carry the tubes around, others are stationary but can leave their tubes. Not all tubeworms are polychaetes and not all polychaetes are tubeworms. More about tubeworms in general.

Features: The solitary tubeworm makes a tube 1cm in diameter. The tube can be quite long, but usually only about 10cm of this is sticking out of the surface. The tube is tough, thick and leathery. Only the portion of the tube that sticks out of the ground is usually reinforced with bits and pieces (sand, shells, bits of wood). The tube is usually curved, with the opening facing down towards the surface. The lower portion of the tube that buried in the ground is thin and papery. This is more obvious if you look at a tube that has been washed ashore.

One or two large leaves or large shells are usually added near the tube opening. Some suggestions for the ornamentation of these tubes are that it helps the worm differentiate between harmful predators and food.

According to Leslie Harris, Diopatra is the only genus in the Family Onuphidae with feathery appendages (branchiae with spiraled filaments around a central stem).

Michell Ng shares that the one she saw on Changi on a sandy stretch was spinning in the water, making figure 8 shapes. After taking the photos, when she released it, it proceeded to burrow into the sand.

What do they eat? Some sources suggest Onuphid worms are scavengers that will eat dead animals or plants. Others suggest Diopatra are predators that ambush prey from their tubes that seize passing prey with teeth and immobilise them with large tentacle-like appendages on their heads.

Singapore tubeworm: One species of Solitary tubeworm, Diopatra bulohensis, is named after our very own Sungei Buloh!

Thick leathery tube
Chek Jawa, Jan 06

Tube washed ashore
Changi, Aug 05

Changi, Jul 04

Reaching out to grab a mangrove propagule.
Pasir Ris Park, Apr 10

Got it!

A closer look at the worm.

*Species are difficult to positively identify without close examination.
On this website, they are grouped by external features for convenience of display.

Solitary tubeworms on Singapore shores

Photos of Solitary tubeworms for free download from wildsingapore flickr

Distribution in Singapore on this wildsingapore flickr map

Changi, Nov 08

Photos shared by Michell Ng.

More photos of these worms
out of their tubes.

Being eaten by a mudskipper
Chek Jawa, Jun 11
Photo shared by Loh Kok Sheng on his blog.


With grateful thanks to Leslie H. Harris of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County for comments on this worm and identification of the worm out of the tube!

  • Tong, T.L. & Chou, L.M. Diopatra bulohensis, a new species of Onuphidae (Polychaeta) from Sungei Buloh, Singapore. Pp. 357-362 on the The Raffles Bulletin of Zoology, 1928 - 2004 (launches PDF)
  • Edward E. Ruppert, Richard S. Fox, Robert D. Barnes. 2004.Invertebrate Zoology Brooks/Cole of Thomson Learning Inc., 7th Edition. pp. 963
  • Pechenik, Jan A., 2005. Biology of the Invertebrates. 5th edition. McGraw-Hill Book Co., Singapore. 578 pp.
  • Jones, R.E. (Ed.) et al. 2000. Polychaetes and Allies: The Southern Synthesis Australian Biological Resources Study, Canberra. 465pp.
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