Peacock worm (Sabella pavonina)

NBN Interactive24-04-2008

Map accurate at time of writing. Visit NBN or OBIS to view current distribution

Researched byPenny Avant Refereed byAdmin
AuthoritySavigny, 1822
Other common names- SynonymsSabella penicillus (Gmelin, 1791)



A long, slender, many segmented worm up to 30 cm long and only 4mm in width. It lives permanently in a smooth, flexible, muddy tube that projects up to 10 cm above the sand. The head projects from the tube during feeding and bears a daisy-like crown of feathery tentacles in two groups. The body can be yellowish-orange or greyish purple in colour and the crown is banded in various colours.

Recorded distribution in Britain and Ireland

Widely distributed, and locally abundant, around all British coasts.

Global distribution

Widely distributed in north west Europe.


Found on stones in sand and mud, at and below low water.

Depth range


Identifying features

  • A long, thin worm, up to 30 cm in length and 4 mm in width, with many segments.
  • The body is orange to dull purple in colour.
  • Conspicuous crown of feathery tentacles banded in red, brown and purple, withdrawn into the tube when not feeding.
  • Chaetae small, slender and unobtrusive.
  • The muddy tube is smooth and flexible and projects up to 10cm above the substrate.

Additional information

Identification of the family Sabellidae to species level depends on the fine structure of the parapods (see Fauchald, 1977).

Listed by

- none -

Further information sources

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  1. Bruce, J.R., Colman, J.S. & Jones, N.S., 1963. Marine fauna of the Isle of Man. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.

  2. Fauchald, K., 1977. The polychaete worms. Definitions and keys to the orders, families and genera. USA: Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

  3. Fish, J.D. & Fish, S., 1996. A student's guide to the seashore. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  4. Hayward, P., Nelson-Smith, T. & Shields, C. 1996. Collins pocket guide. Sea shore of Britain and northern Europe. London: HarperCollins.

  5. Hayward, P.J. & Ryland, J.S. (ed.) 1995b. Handbook of the marine fauna of North-West Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  6. Howson, C.M. & Picton, B.E. (ed.), 1997. The species directory of the marine fauna and flora of the British Isles and surrounding seas. Belfast: Ulster Museum. [Ulster Museum publication, no. 276.]

  7. JNCC (Joint Nature Conservation Committee), 1999. Marine Environment Resource Mapping And Information Database (MERMAID): Marine Nature Conservation Review Survey Database. [on-line],

  8. NBN (National Biodiversity Network), 2002. National Biodiversity Network gateway., 2008-10-31

  9. Picton, B.E. & Costello, M.J., 1998. BioMar biotope viewer: a guide to marine habitats, fauna and flora of Britain and Ireland. [CD-ROM] Environmental Sciences Unit, Trinity College, Dublin.,


This review can be cited as:

Avant, P. 2008. Sabella pavonina Peacock worm. In Tyler-Walters H. and Hiscock K. (eds) Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Reviews, [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. Available from:

Last Updated: 24/04/2008