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Tough, armed and omnivorous: Hermodice carunculata (Annelida: Amphinomidae) is prepared for ecological challenges

  • Anja Schulze (a1), Candace J. Grimes (a1) and Tiffany E. Rudek (a1)

The bearded fireworm, Hermodice carunculata, is a common species in the marine annelid taxon Amphinomidae. It has a widespread distribution throughout the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean, Mediterranean and Red Seas. We review its environmental tolerances, defence mechanisms and feeding habits to evaluate its potential to survive in changing ocean conditions, to increasingly emerge as a nuisance species and to invade new geographic areas. Hermodice carunculata tolerates a wide range of environmental conditions, including temperature, salinity, oxygen saturation and various types of pollution. It has few natural predators because it is protected by its sharp chaetae and probably by toxins. Hermodice carunculata is best known for consuming live cnidarians, and has been implicated in transmitting coral pathogens, but it also feeds non-selectively on detritus. In the short term, we predict that H. carunculata will be able to withstand many future ecological challenges and possibly contribute to coral reef decline. In the long term, ocean acidification may negatively impact its defence mechanisms and survival. Its invasive potential may be significant. We highlight the gaps in our knowledge about the reproduction and development of this species, the nature and origin of its toxins and role of microbes in their feeding behaviour and defensive strategies.

Corresponding author
Correspondence should be addressed to: A. Schulze, Department of Marine Biology, Texas A&M University – Galveston Campus, 200 Seawolf Parkway, Galveston, TX 77553, USA email:
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