How To Get Rid Of Bristle Worms: A Complete Guide

    How to get rid of bristle worms

    How To Get Rid Of Bristle Worms: A Complete Guide

    For reef hobbyists, bristle worms (Polychaeta) can be a real problem to deal with, as these can create HAVOC in any aquarium, particularly when they grow to large sizes. In addition, they can grow quickly and start feeding on pretty much anything they find in the aquarium. Therefore, it is important to know how to get rid of bristle worms.

    Even more, they can grow to sizes that can amaze anyone with ease. Their growth process doesn’t take very long. Even though the bristle worms in small sizes may look harmless, larger bristle worms can grow up to 24-inches long! They can be pretty dangerous and can lead to serious damage. Therefore, it is highly important to get rid of bristle worms as quickly as possible to keep your aquarium and reefs safe.

    Do you want to know how to get rid of bristle worms and keep your aquariums in a safe and healthy state more effectively? Well, here we have a thorough guide for you that can provide plenty of information about bristle worms along with the best ways on how to get rid of them more effectively.

    So, here we go:

    What Are Bristle Worms?

    Bristle worm identification

    First, it is important to understand what bristle worms actually are before moving on to the solutions on how to get rid of them effectively.

    Bristle worms are worms with segmented bodies and bristly tufts extending from each segment. Bristle worms can grow very large, but more commonly, they are between 1 and 6 inches long.

    They are nocturnal and can stay under a live rock or in the substrate of a tank.

    There are about 8,000 bristle worm species in existence all around the world. Approximately 168 of these bristle worm species are freshwater critters. However, the rest of the species prefer to stay in marine or brackish water.

    Bristle worms can come in multiple sizes and colors. Overall, these worms look like little segmented cylinders that are covered in weird little bristles that have given them their name.

    Ways To Identify The Presence Of Bristle Worms

    They are sneaky little suckers. There could be a whole family of bristle worms in your reef tank, and you wouldn’t even know because they are nocturnal. They always prefer to come out of hiding at night.

    However, during the day, they are going to hide in the sand, rock cervices, or any other available gaps.

    Therefore, the best way to identify the presence of bristle worms in your reef tank is to look for them at night. Just like various other animals, bristle worms can’t see red light. So, it is highly recommended to use a red light to spot bristle worms in your reef tank. Otherwise, when you turn on a light, they will immediately scurry away into any of the available dark corners to hide.

    However, by using a red light, you will be able to perform some detective work to identify whether your reef tank contains any bristle worms or not. 

    What Do Bristle Worms Eat?

    Bristle worms are scavengers and will try to eat anything that can fit into their little mouths.

    • Even though they do not kill fish, they can eat dead fish with ease. A dead fish can be their favorite kind of treat to have.
    • Bristle worms can eat algae and leaves as well. In fact, they are highly appreciated for eating algae. This is one of the most common reasons why in some cases reef hobbyists invite them to their aquariums intentionally.
    • However, bristle worms can also consume biological water, food waste, and even that missing damselfish’s rotting carcass as well that you may not have seen for several days.

    How Do Bristle Worms Get In Your Tank?

    bristle worm infestation

    This is one of the most common questions that leaves various reef hobbyists scratching their heads. This is because one day, there are no bristle worms in your reef tank, but the next day you can find a full family of bristle worms in there. It seems as if the bristle worms have appeared in your reef tank by magic.

    Fortunately, the answer to the question of how bristle worms get into your reef tank is pretty simple. Bristle worms usually have some ninja skills to hide and stay undetectable. Due to these skills, they can get into your reef tank quite easily.

    Bristle worms can get into your reef tank in multiple ways. These are actually unwanted hitchhikers and can get into your reef tank without you even knowing. In most cases, you are the one who put them in your reef tank without even realizing it!

    • Bristle worms can get into your tank when you buy live sand or live rock.
    • They can also get into your tank when you buy new plants or coral.
    • They can be on the coral reef you are buying to put in your aquarium.

    However, one of the best ways to prevent bristle worms from entering your reef tank is to check and rinse off anything you are going to put inside it thoroughly. Before you put live rocks, live sand, coral, or any kind of new plants in your aquarium, make sure to give them a proper check.

    Why Are Bristle Worms Bad For Your Tank?

    When it comes to knowing how to get rid of bristle worms, a common question people ask is why bristle worms should be removed, or why these are bad. Actually, there are different reasons why reef hobbyists don’t want to keep bristle worms in their aquarium or tanks.

    Some of the most important reasons regarding why bristle worms are bad are given below. These reasons alone can be enough for you to know why you should keep bristle worms out of your reef tank.

    So, here we go:

    Bristle worms can cause injuries or illnesses in reef tank members

    One reason why bristle worms should be removed from your tank has to do with the bristles themselves. Usually, bristle worms are sharp, long, and hard. Because of this, bristle worms that come into contact with fish or other animals in a reef tank can lead to disastrous consequences.

    Scrapes, cuts, and bristles stuck in your reef tank animals is just the beginning. Fish are commonly sensitive to bacteria in the water. And having an open wound due to blisters or injuries can lead to illness.

    Bristle worms are predatory

    Bristle worms can be predatory, which is another reason to avoid keeping them in your reef tank. They can be formidable opponents to the smaller animals in your reef tank, especially if the worms are large.

    Even though it is often said that bristle worms are commonly non-aggressive, this is only true for the small bristle worms. Larger bristle worms can attack other animals to take over the aquarium. This is because they have big jaws that they can use to bite other animals in the reef tank and even you as well.

    Bristle worms are scavengers

    Another reason why bristle worms are bad for your tank is that they are scavengers. They can eat anything that fits into their mouths, even the food that is missed by your fish.

    If you have fish that are slow eaters, then bristle worms can actually steal your fish food, and this will obviously leave your fish underfed.

    Also, bristle worms can also produce waste similar to other animals. This means that your aquarium filter has to clean the aquarium more often.

    Bristle worms can reproduce quickly

    Bristle worms can multiply quickly. You might have only seen just one or two bristle worms in your reef tank. But the chances are high that there are more of them in your aquarium. This is because their reproduction rate is very quick.

    Bristle worms can hurt you

    Even more, you certainly never want to hurt yourself while cleaning your fish tank. Smaller bristle worms can stick to your skin and cause sharp pain. Larger bristle worms can even bite you.

    How to get rid of bristle worms?

    There are some effective ways you must know to understand how to get rid of bristle worms in the best possible way. Have a look at some of the best methods given below to get a better idea about the things in this regard:

    Use predators

    Buying predators can be an effective thing you can consider to get rid of bristle worms. There are different predators that can eat bristle worms and will help you to keep your reef tank free of bristle worms effectively.

    Arrow crabs and Coral banded shrimps are best-known to eat bristle worms. Both of these can eat at least smaller sized bristle worms. Wrasses, dotty backs, goatfish, and various other types of fish can also eat bristle worms.

    If the bristle worms in your reef tank are small in size, then using predators can be one of the best solutions for you to consider. However, for larger bristle worms, this may not be the most effective way to get rid of them completely.

    It is also important for you to understand that adding more unique critters to your reef tank to get rid of bristle worms means you will have a more diverse aquarium. Because of this, you will need to take care of more critters.

    Traps can help you as well

    So, the other solution for how to get rid of bristle worms is to buy bristle worm traps. You can find bristle worms traps in any of the local pet shops with ease.

    Place these traps in the bottom of your tank, but don’t forget to add some bait. You can add clams, fish, cooked shrimp, or raw scallops as bait, and wait for the traps to get completely filled with bristle worms.

    It is highly recommended that you wait up to 48 hours to see if any bristle worms have been caught by the trap. If any have been captured, then just simply remove the bristle worms from the trap and dispose of them.

    However, if you want to donate bristle worms to a pet shop or anyone else, then you can simply put these in a separate tank.

    Keep in mind the fact that it is going to take some time or there may be some trial and error in finding a perfect bristle worm trap that works. You can also try to make your own DIY bristle worm trap as well.

    See the video below on a homemade bristle worm trap:

    Hollow rocks can be another amazing solution

    This is another method to get rid of bristle worms in a more effective way. You can get a rock with a hollow bottom and place it in the tank. It is important to place some baits in the hollow rock to attract the bristle worms.

    • Put it in the tank and wait for a few hours, or come back to the tank the next morning. You will find bristle worms under the rock or just in its hollow.
    • However, removing bristle worms from a hollow rock needs some skill. Get ready with a net while lifting up the hollow rock.
    • Otherwise, bristle worms will disperse and are going to hide immediately somewhere else.

    Avoid touching bristle worms barehanded, because they don’t feel nice.

    So, here we have listed some of the best ways on how to get rid of bristle worms. You can choose any of these above-mentioned methods to keep your reef tank bristle-free in the best possible way.

    Bristle Worms Vs Fireworms

    Bristle Worms vs fireworms

    Generally, bristle worms are segmented, free-living worms that can be viewed as beneficial to a marine aquarium if you are trying to remove algae. However, on the other hand, fireworms are a specific type of bristle worm that is viewed as a pest to a typical aquarium.

    All fireworms are bristle worms, but not every bristle worm is a fireworm.

    Fire worms are free-living, segmented bristle worms that have sensory hairs on each of their segments for defense. These worms can penetrate the skin with ease and break off.


    1.              Are bristle worms parasitic?

    Bristle worms are not parasites, but they are scavengers. They can eat almost anything in your reef tank, including the fish food intended for your fish. Therefore, most reef hobbyists avoid putting them in their reef tanks.

    2.              What does it feel like to touch a bristle worm?

    When you touch a bristle worm, it feels just like touching a small cactus due to the tiny hair-like bristles on their body. These bristles can even stick into your skin and cause irritation and itchiness.

    3.              What can eat bristle worms?

    There are various invertebrates and fish that can eat bristle worms. Banded coral shrimps are voracious eaters of bristle worms. At the same time, arrow crabs are also known to eat bristle worms, and you can easily keep them in a tank to have a check on bristle worms in the aquarium.

    In regards to fish, six-line wrasses and flame hawkfish can also eat bristle worms.

    However, if you are planning to keep these predators in your reef tank, it is highly recommended to check their compatibility with the rest of the invertebrates, fish, or coral that are already in the tank.

    4.              Can bristle worms kill fish or coral?

    Commonly, small bristle worms don’t kill coral or fish in a reef tank. However, they may eat dead or dying fish or coral in your reef tank. Big bristle worms or fire worms may attack healthy coral or fish in the tank.

    5.              Are too many bristle worms in your reef tank a problem?

    Discovering that your reef tank contains multiple bristle worms is definitely a problem. One of the major concerns can be the rapid increase in the number of bristle worms in the tank. They are scavengers and can eat almost anything. Consequently, other animals will stay underfed.

    Conclusion – How To Get Rid Of Bristle Worms

    Unwanted hitchhikers such as bristle worms are one of the most common problems for reef hobbyists. Bristle worms are definitely a nuisance for any reef tank. The only benefit they may add to a tank is that they can consume some unwanted algae. However, the cons of keeping bristle worms in your tank heavily outweigh the pros.

    Bristle worms are not only painful to touch but can also cause a whole lot of trouble for other reef tank members as well. They can wreak havoc in your reef aquarium.

    There are multiple reasons why bristle worms are bad for your reef tank. Therefore, it is worth knowing how to get rid of bristle worms effectively. In this article, we have not only mentioned some of the most effective ways on how to get rid of bristle worms but also provided staple information about these unwanted hitchhikers to give you a better idea about them.

    Hopefully, this article helped you get to know why and how to get rid of bristle worms to keep your reef tank members safe and healthy. Thanks for reading, and we hope this guide helped!


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