Look under docks or on low tide pilings, and I’ll bet you’ll see what looks to be tan soda straws sticking up at all angles. These are homes of feather duster worms. The flexible, parchment-like tubes are made of secretions of calcium carbonate mixed with sand grains, the same material that clam shells are made of. Tubes can be a foot or more, but most feather dusters in our Salish Sea are only 4-6” long. Inside, the worm lives in relative safety while it sticks plume-shaped feeding fans out of the tube to catch tiny plants and animals.
Two small but very sensitive eye spots keep watch for any threatening motion and ‘seeing’ a hint of danger it will quickly whisk the feathery plumes back inside. Since there isn’t a door these critters can’t close out predators. Instead, they hunker down as far into their tubes as possible, and consequently when we blunder upon a forest of tubes, they often appear empty. Next time you’re walking the docks, bend down and check all this out. Stick your finger into a plume and watch them shut down, and never mind what those other people think.
Larry paints and blogs about wild places at larryeifert.com. His work can be seen in many national parks across America.