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ice cream worm, Pectinaria sp. Note the specimen in the photograph is not P. gouldii but a closely related congener. Photo courtesy Hans Hillewaert.

Species Name: Pectinaria gouldii
Common Name: Ice Cream Cone Worm
Trumpet Worm
Synonymy: None

    Kingdom Phylum/Division Class: Order: Family: Genus:
    Animalia Annelida Polychaeta Terebellida Pectinariidae Pectinaria

    Species Description

    Ploychaetes of family Pectinariidae are characterized by a gently tapering, tusk-shaped, very fragile sand tube. The tube is composed of a single layer of sand grains which are cemented with a proteinaceous glue (Watson 1928). The size and shape of the sand grains used increases as the worm grows and the shape of the tube is similar regardless of the sediment composition (Busch and Loveland 1975). Gordon (1966) describes Pectinaria gouldii as measuring approximately 4-6 cm in length. The tube is found in an oblique position just below the surface of the sediment. The head of the worm, located at the lower and larger end of the tube, has long paleae used for digging and long ciliated tentacles which bring sediment to the mouth. Some of this sediment may be rejected, but most of it is transported either through the worm's gut or between its body and tube to the surface of the mudflat where it is deposited as a small mound around the posterior end of the tube. The worm excavates small caverns that continually collapse and fill in with sediment from the sides and above.

    Potentially Misidentified Species

    Pectinariids have distinct tusk-shaped sand tubes which makes identification to family simple. However, positive identification to species level is generally beyond the scope of amateur naturalists.


    Regional Occurrence

    Pectinaria specimens are found in mudflats in shallow water between the upper and lower tide marks. They are also dredged from 2 to17 fathoms in subtidal regions. Pectinaria gouldii range from Old Tampa Bay, Florida (Simon and Dauer 1973), along Barnegat Bay, New Jersey (Busch and Loveland 1975), and Ocean Pond, Fisher Island, New York (Whitlatch and Weinberg 1982) to its northern limits in Massachusetts (Gordon 1966).

    IRL Distribution

    Pectinaria gouldii is found throughout the Indian River Lagoon region according to an extensive EMAP (Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program) study conducted in 1994 in the Carolinian Province (NOAA NBI undated).


    Age, Size, Lifespan

    Busch and Loveland (1975) reported that Pectinaria gouldii can live up to one year in Barnegat Bay, New Jersey.

    P. gouldii found in Hudson River Park, NY grow as large as 5 cm (Ernst and Detrich 2006).


    Carolinian Province EMAP study in 1994 reported densities of Pectinaria gouldii to be as high as 1,550 individuals/ the Indian River Lagoon region (NOAA NBI undated).


    Dehorne (1925) reported that Pectinariids are primarily monoecious i.e. having both male and female gonads in the same animal. However, a study by Tweedell (1996) describes how animals can be sexed under a stereomicroscope by looking through the mid-ventral transparent body wall. This suggests that the pectinariids may be either dioecious or else sequential hermaphrodites.

    Adult animals spawn naturally from mid-August to early September in the Cape Cod and Woods Hole areas (Austin 1963, Costello et al. 1957). Normally, after maturation of the oocytes, spawning appears to be triggered by temperature, and spawning will be delayed if the seawater temperature stays low (Tweedell 1996).


    Oocytes are shed into the water column where prematuration or initial activation of the oocytes occurs (Tweedell 1961). In this instance, the primary oocyte proceeds to the mitotic metaphase before the egg is fertilized and maturation divisions are completed after sperm penetration. The spawned oocyte is lens-shaped, the shorter axis representing the future animal vegetal axis (Tweedell 1980). Based on observations of two Pectinaria species, pectinariids undertake mass spawning of gametes and have planktotrophic larvae (Wilson 1991). Recently metamorphosed worms, complete with their sandy tubes, remain in the plankton for a short time before becoming benthic in habit. Laboratory studies have shown that larvae of Pectinaria koreni can actively select a suitable substratum for settlement and that the presence of adults also affects larval settlement (Desroy, Olivier and Reire1997).



    Pectinaria gouldii have a wide range of temperature tolerance, evidenced by the species distribution which stretches from New England to Florida.


    Salinties ranges for Pectinaria gouldii have been reported from 6.5 ppt in the St. Lucie River in 2003 to 38.6 ppt in 2000 from the Florida Bay area (NOAA NBI undated).


    Trophic Mode

    Whitlatch (1974) describes Pectinaria gouldii as an opportunistic deposit feeding polychaete that has long golden paleae used strictly for digging and numerous long, ciliated, grooved tentacles which bring sediment to the mouth. When feeding, the tentacles independently select particles from all areas near the mouth. The selected particles are brought to the mouth and rejected particles fall to the bottom of a feeding cavern which the worm creates while feeding. The selected sediment is either ingested or transported between the worm's body and tube to the surface of the flat where it is deposited around the posterior end of the tube. As the worm slowly moves through the sediment, the small excavated cavity continually collapses and fills in with sediment from the sides. A previous ecological study by Gordon (1966) showed that P. gouldi has an annual sediment working rate of about 600 gm of sediment/worm. Using averages of 10 and 40 worms/m2, he concluded that the sediment of one square meter and 6 cm deep could be completely reworked in 15 and 6 years, respectively. Because of the high rates of sediment working, this polychaete could have many effects upon the benthic environment. Fauchald and Jumars (1979) suggested that in organic-rich environments the pectinariids will form U-shaped burrows and remain sessile for long periods and that the motility pattern will be closely related to the organic content of the surrounding substratum.


    Pectinaria gouldii are preyed upon by several fish species (Loveland 1975).

    Associated Species

    One of the co-inhabitants with the developing oocytes in the coelomic fluid is a huge snow-white gregarine protozoan (adult vegetative stage) of Urospora sp. (Brasil 1904). Its developmental stages are usually encysted and attached to the outer intestinal wall; Urospora can be confused with oocyte packets when free in the coelomic fluid.


    Pectinaria gouldii inhabits soft sediments within both vegetated and unvegetated sites. It commonly inhabits the shallow subtidal but has also been collected to depths of 120 m in the Gulf of Mexico during the South Florida Benthic Survey in 2000 (NOAA NBI undated).


    Economic/Ecological Importance

    Ice Cream Cone Worms are a prey resource for various predator species, but details on their relative contribution to estuarine food webs are lacking.


    Austin CR. 1963. Fertilization in Pectinaria (=Cistenides) gouldii. Biological Bulletin, Vol. 124(2) pp. 115-124.

    Brasil L. 1904. Contribution a la connaissance de l'appareil digestif des Annelides Polychaetes. L'epithelium intestinal de la Pectinaire. Arch. Zool. Exp. Gen. Ser.4 2: 91-155.

    Busch DA and RE Loveland. 1975. Tube-worm-sediment relationships in populations of Pectinaria gouldii (Polychaeta; Pectinariidae) from Barnegat Bay, New Jersey, U.S.A. Marine Biology. 33: 255-264.

    Dehorne A. 1925. Observation sur la biologie deNereis diversicolor. C. Lebd. SŽanc Acad. Sci., Paris 87: 1305-1307.

    Desroy N, Olivier F and C Retiere. 1997. Effects of individual behaviors, inter-individual interactions with adult Pectinaria koreni and Owenia fusiformis (Annelida, Polychaeta), and hydrodynamism on Pectinaria koreni recruitment. Bulletin Marine Science. 60:2 p. 547-558.

    Ernst AG and Deitrich J. 2006. Guide to Benthic Invertebrates of the Hudson River Park. Center for the Environment Cornell University 200 Rice Hall Ithaca, NY 14853. 88pp.

    Fauchald K and P Jumars. 1979. The diet of worms: A study of polychaete feeding guilds. Oceanogr. Marine Biology Annual Review 17:193-284 Margaret Barnes, Ed Aberdeen University Press.

    Gordon DC, Jr. 1966. The effects od the deposit feeding polychaete Pectinaria gouldii on the intertidal sediments of Barnstable Harbor. Limnology and Oceanography. Vol 11(3) pp. 327-332.

    Simon JL and DM Dauer. 1973. Repopulation of an intertidal habitat following defaunation. Part 1. Defaunation and initial colonization. American Zoologist. 13 (4) 1329.

    Tweedell KS. 1961. Factors affecting germinal vesicle breakdown in Pectinaria (Cistenides) gouldii. Biological Bulletin., 121: 412.

    Tweedell KS. 1980. The activation of gamete migration, maturation and spawning in Pectinaria gouldii. International Journal Invertebrate Reproduction. 2:139-151.

    Tweedell KS. 1996. Pectinaria - oocyte maturation, spawning and early egg development. Marine Models Electronic Record [serial online; cited Sept 29, 2008].

    Watson AT. 1927. Observations on the habits and life history of Pectinaria (Lagis) koreni. Proceedings and Transactions of the Liverpool Biological Society., 42: 25-60.

    Whitlatch RB. 1974. Food-Resource Partitioning in the Deposit Feeding Polychaete Pectinaria gouldii. Biological Bulletin, Vol. 147(1) pp. 227-235.

    Whitlatch RB and JR Weinberg. 1982. Factors influencing particle selection and feeding role in the polychaete Cistenides (Pectinaria) gouldii. Marine Biology 71 (1): 33-40.

    Wilson WH. 1991. Sexual reproductive modes in polychaetes: classification and diversity. Bulletin Marine Science 48:500-516.

Report by: W.S. Masterson and J. Masterson, Smithsonian Marine Station
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Page last updated: October 1, 2008

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