With the holidays just around the corner, many homes, business and public places are setting up decorations and getting into the holiday spirit. One of the most recognisable symbols of the Christmas spirit is the Christmas tree, and around the first of December these colourful start to appear in shops, businesses, and homes. Surprisingly enough, a version of these festive symbols can be found on the reef all year-round: The Christmas Tree Worm.
The Christmas Tree Worm (scientific name: Spirobranchus giganteus) is widely distributed throughout the world’s tropical oceans, and are known to occur from the Caribbean to the Indo-Pacific, and are found in abundance on the Great Barrier Reef. The worm is aptly named; both its common and Latin names refer to the two colourful spiral structures, the most common feature seen by divers. The multi-coloured spirals are highly derived structures for feeding and respiration. These spiral structures are actually just the end of the animal; the rest is burrowed into a substrate, usually in boulder corals.
Christmas Tree Worms are a huge favourite of divers and snorkelers on the Great Barrier Reef. Divers especially enjoy photographing their bright colours, and marvel at the speed they can withdraw into their burrow. While the worm itself has no commercial fishery importance, it is also of interest to marine aquarists. Many aquarists that have miniature reef aquariums purposely include heads of coral that Christmas Tree Worm specimens inhabit.
So when you come out for your once-in-a-lifetime trip out to the Great Barrier Reef, keep your eyes peeled for these remarkable creatures. Michaelmas Cay, one of our premiere destinations, has an abundance of Christmas Tree Worms in the abundance of hard corals scattered around the sand island. So grab a mask and snorkel, jump in the water, and let these tiny animals help you get tin the holiday spirit!