Diopatra cuprea

Geographic Range

Diopatra cuprea is found in coastal areas from Massachusetts to Florida and Louisiana as well as in the Gulf of Mexico.(Malcom 1999;Knopf 1981)


Diopatra cuprea live on protected mud and sand flats mixed with shell debris and gravel from the low-tide line to water up to 270 feet deep. They live in their tubes, which they create from particles of shells and other matter in their environment. (Holzapfel 1998; Knopf 1981)

Physical Description

Diopatra cuprea are on average 12 inches long and 3/8 of an inch wide. They live in a leathery tube, which they make out of mucus, bits of shells and rocks. When they come out of their shells they look similar to Christmas trees; however they are not often seen. Their shells are spirals that are cylindrical at the front and flat and tapered at the end. The color of their tube is reddish to brown and speckled with gray. They have many appendages. The lobe above their mouth is oval and short with one pair of short conical antennae. They also have five long antennae with ringed bases on the top. They have large jaws and the segments between 4 or 5 and 35 have bushy gills on their upper surfaces. These bushy gills are the "plumes" that give the plumed worm its more common name. (Carson 1955; Klingel 1951; Knopf 1981)


Diopatra cuprea live in colonies and their tubes may be up to four feet in the sand. At the slightest disturbance they will retreat into their dens. They will also go to the bottom of their dens when the tides go out. They wait there until the tides rise again. They camouflage their above ground portions of their tube with sand and bits of shells, but they have to expose several inches of their bodies to do so. They can regenerate lost tissue, which helps as they are often preyed upon by hungry fish. (Klingel 1951)

Food Habits

Diopatra cuprea are active predators, which is unusual among the polychaete worms of their class. They have to be handled carefully because they can bite. They use their tentacles and cirri to find their food. They eat small creatures such as larval fishes and other tiny beings. They lie at the entrance of their tunnels devouring any tidbit that comes in reach. They only have to reach out and get it. (Malcom 1999; Knopf 1981)

Other Comments

Diopatra cuprea are relatively common. With increases in erosion and coastal sediment transportation very important coastal habitats have been destroyed. This can be attributed to the increased use of beaches and the mining of sand. As these activities continue to increase so does the risk to the Diopatra cuprea. (Cutter 1998)


Rebecca Hamilton (author), Western Maryland College, Louise a. Paquin (editor), Western Maryland College.


Atlantic Ocean

the body of water between Africa, Europe, the southern ocean (above 60 degrees south latitude), and the western hemisphere. It is the second largest ocean in the world after the Pacific Ocean.

World Map


living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

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bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.


animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


Carson, R. 1955. The Edge of the Sea. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Riverside Press.

Cutter, G., R. Diaz. January 1998. "Benthic habitats and biological resources off the Virginia coast 1996 and 1997" (On-line). Accessed April 30, 2001 at http://www.vims.edu/~cutter/vabeach/vbtext.html.

Holzapfel, J. January 16, 1998. "Seashells of Galveston Texas" (On-line). Accessed April 30, 2001 at http://www.crpc.rice.edu/CRPC/GT/jholzapf/Gulf/wormtube.html.

Klingel, G. 1951. The Bay. 1951: Dodd Mead and Company.

Knopf, A. 1981. The Audubon Soceity Feild Guide to North American Seashore Creatures. New York: Chanticleer Press.

Malcom, C. 1999. "Web Lab Book for the Gulf of Mexico" (On-line). Accessed April 30, 2001 at http://www.bio.swt.edu/Lavalli/guides/homepg.htm.