Invasion History

First Non-native North American Tidal Record: 2012
First Non-native West Coast Tidal Record:
First Non-native East/Gulf Coast Tidal Record: 2012

General Invasion History:

Branchiomma coheni was described from Punta Culebra, Naos, near the Pacific entrance of the Panama Canal, in 2002 (Tovar-Hernández and Knight-Jones 2006). Subsequently, it was collected on the Pacific coast of Mexico, in the state of Sinaloa, and further north into the Gulf of California (Keppel et al. 2015). In 2012 and 2014, it was collected on fouling plates in Tampa Bay, Florida, in the Gulf of Mexico (Keppel et al. 2015).

North American Invasion History:

Invasion History on the Gulf Coast:

Branchiomma coheni was collected in 2012 and 2014 on plastic fouling plates in marinas on Tampa Bay, as part of the Smithsonian Marine Invasions monitoring program. At least 4 specimens were collected at one marina over 2 different years, enough to support the hypothesis of an established population (Keppel et al. 2015). Possible vectors include ship fouling and ballast water. Transport in hull fouling would require tolerance to fresh water during the transit. The mode of larval development and the time spent in the plankton are unknown, giving uncertainties on the mode of introduction. However, several species of Branchiomma have become widely introduced throughout the world (Keppel et al. 2015).


Branchiomma coheni is a sabellid polychaete. Sabellids are often called 'feather-duster worms' and are characterized by having a prostomium with the palps modified into a crown of paired feather-like radioles. The peristomium is modified into an anterior collar, into which the radioles can be withdrawn. The body has a short thoracic region (6-8 chaetigers) and a longer abdominal region, of a few-to-many chaetigers. A ciliated ventral groove runs from the ventral anus along the ventral side of the abdomen and then swings to the dorsal side of the thorax, continuing as a divide in the peristomial collar (Blake and Ruff 2007).

In worms of the genus Branchiomma, the oral region is surrounded by a crown of numerous radioles, comprising 25-50% of body length. The rachis (central shaft) of the radiole bears pairs of epithelial flaps called stylodes, which are evenly spaced along the rachis. The stylodes can vary in shape, resembling straps, fingers, leaves, paddles, tongues, etc. Some species have 1-3 pairs of macrostylodes, at least twice the size of neighboring pairs. Paired compound eyes are located along the length of the radioles. A pair of dorsal lips, occur dorsolateral to the mouth – these are ciliated, tongue-like structures, about 25-50% of the length of the radiolar crown. Ventral lips are present. Eyespots are present between the rami of the parapdia of the thorax and abdomen. Parapodia are short, with bundles of notochaetae and neurochetae on elevations (tori) on each chaetiger. The dorsal thoracic notochaetae are elongate and narrowly hooded, while the more ventral notochaetae are spinelike, arranged in bundles, forming irregular, longitudinal chaetal rows. The thoracic chaetigers also bear rows of uncinae, short, deeply embedded chaetae, avicular (bird-like) in form, with small teeth above the main fang and very short handle. Description based on Tovar-Hernández and Knight-Jones 2006; and Licciano and Giamgrande 2008.

Branchiomma coheni has a radiolar crown of 20-28 radioles, comprising about half the body length. The radioles are united at the base by a web-like membrane. The basal stylodes are unpaired and tongue-like. There are 15 pairs on each radiole, including at least 3 pairs of leaf-like macrostylodes. At the tips of the radioles, eyes are absent and the new pairs of stylodes are small and finger-shaped. The dorsal lips are long, about 1/2 the length of the radioles. There are 8 thoracic segments and 38-86 abdominal segments. The margin of the collar is well-separated from the thoracic region. The ventral lips are subtriangular, fleshy and overlapping in the relaxed position. The thoracic tori extend to the sides of the ventral shields. The uncini are avicular, with the crest surmounted by two rows of teeth, occupying one quarter of the crest and a short handle. Adult worms range from 26 to 50 mm. The worm's body is green, or dark brown, mottled with small brown spots, with dark spots between the rami of the parapodia, larger on the first thoracic segments and smaller in the posterior region. The dorsal lips are marked with an orange longitudinal ridge. The radioles have light and dark brown or olive longitudinal bands. The ventral lips each have a large orange spot. Description based on: Tovar-Hernández and Knight-Jones 2006; and Keppel et al. 2015.


Taxonomic Tree

Kingdom:   Animalia
Phylum:   Annelida
Class:   Polychaeta
Subclass:   Palpata
Order:   Canalipalpata
Suborder:   Sabellida
Family:   Sabellidae
Genus:   Branchiomma
Species:   coheni


Potentially Misidentified Species

Branchiomma bairdi
Native to Florida, Bermuda, Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, introduced from Pacific Mexico to Panama, the Mediterranean, Madeira, and the Canary Islands (Tovar-Hernández and Knight-Jones 2006; Keppel et al. 2015). It has digitiform stylodes throughout the radiole length and macrostylodes strap-like up to four times as long as neighboring pairs.

Branchiomma conspersum
Native to the Caribbean (Tovar-Hernández and Knight-Jones 2006; Keppel et al. 2015). It has digitiform stylodes throughout the radiole length and subcircular ventral lappets.

Branchiomma iliffei
Native to the Bahamas and Curaçao (Tovar-Hernández and Knight-Jones 2006; Keppel et al. 2015). It has no macrostylodes and its most distinguishing character is the remarkable size of its eyes, which take up most of the width of the rachis in side view.

Branchiomma nigromaculatum
Native to Florida, Bermuda, Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean (Tovar-Hernández and Knight-Jones 2006; Keppel et al. 2015). It has digitiform stylodes throughout the radiole length and macrostylode pairs only twice as long as their neighbouring pairs.



Branchiomma coheni composes a tube made of detrital particles cemented by mucus. Most of the examined specimens (3 of 4 examined) were simultaneous hermaphrodites, with both eggs and sperm present, while one was a female with eggs only (Keppel et al. 2015). One relative, B. bairdi reproduces sexually as a simultaneous hermaphrodite, but can also reproduce by architomy (splitting at a particular zone of the body, followed by regeneration of the missing parts). Another, B. luctuosum also reproduces as a simultaneous hermaphrodite, but does not show asexual reproduction (Mastrototaro et al. 2014). It is not known whether self-fertilization or asexual reproduction occurs in B. coheni or B. bairdi (Tovar-Hernández 2009; Arias et al. 2013; Keppel et al. 2016). In B. bairdi, eggs and larvae adhere to the interior wall of the tube, and are brooded until the late trochophore or metatrochophore stage. The larvae are released and are lecithotrophic (Tovar-Hernández 2009; Arias et al. 2013; Tovar-Hernández et al. 2011). However, the reproductive biology of B. coheni has not been studied.

Branchiomma coheni is, so far, known from tropical-subtropical habitats, at temperatures of 18-30°C and 25-35 PSU (Keppel et al. 2016). This worm has been found in rocky tide pools, marinas and docks, cultured oysters, and locks of the Panama Canal. Sabellids are suspension feeders, feeding on phytoplankton and detritus particles through downstream ciliary entrainment on radioles (Fauchald and Jumars 1979; Jumars et al. 2015). In Pacific Mexico, where B. coheni is native, and B. bairdi is introduced, the two species are associated, but B. bairdi is ~100X more abundant. The same is true in Tampa, where B. bairdi is native. However, B. coheni is a new invader there, and its abundance is likely to change (Keppel et al. 2015).


Phytoplankton, detritus

Trophic Status:

Suspension Feeder



General HabitatRockyNone
General HabitatOyster ReefNone
General HabitatMarinas & DocksNone
General HabitatVessel HullNone
General HabitatCanalsNone
Salinity RangePolyhaline18-30 PSU
Salinity RangeEuhaline30-40 PSU
Tidal RangeSubtidalNone
Tidal RangeLow IntertidalNone
Vertical HabitatEpibenthicNone

Tolerances and Life History Parameters

Minimum Temperature (ºC)18Field, Tampa Bay (Keppel et al. 2015)
Maximum Temperature (ºC)30Field, Tampa Bay (Keppel et al. 2015)
Minimum Salinity (‰)26Field, Tampa Bay (Keppel et al. 2015)
Maximum Salinity (‰)35Field, Gulf of California (Keppel et al. 2015)
Maximum Length (mm)17Type speciment (Tovar-Hernandez and Knight-Jones 2006)
Broad Temperature RangeNoneSubtropical-Tropical
Broad Salinity RangeNonePolyhaline-Euhaline

General Impacts

No impacts have been reported for Branchiomma coheni in Tampa Bay, Florida where this species is apparently newly established and rare. However, continued monitoring is desirable. Sabellids are important as fouling organisms and suspension feeders, with potential to alter food webs and nutrient cycles in estuaries (Ross et al. 2013; Keppel et al. 2015).

Regional Distribution Map

Bioregion Region Name Year Invasion Status Population Status
CAR-I Northern Yucatan, Gulf of Mexico, Florida Straits, to Middle Eastern Florida 2012 Def Estab
G070 Tampa Bay 2012 Def Estab
SEP-H None 2002 Native Estab
NEP-VIII None 0 Native Estab
NEP-VII None 0 Native Estab
PAN_PAC Panama Pacific Coast 2002 Native Estab
CAR-III None 2002 Def Estab
B-IV None 2016 Def Estab

Occurrence Map

OCC_ID Author Year Date Locality Status Latitude Longitude


Arias, A.; Giangrande, A.; Gambi, M. C.; Anadón, N. (2013) Biology and new records of the invasive species Branchiomma bairdi (Annelida: Sabellidae) in the Mediterranean Sea, Mediterranean Marine Science 14(1): 162-171

Blake, James A.; Ruff, R. Eugene (2007) The Light and Smith Manual: Intertidal invertebrates from Central California to Oregon (4th edition), University of California, Berkeley CA. Pp. 309-410

Capa, Maria; Pons, Joan; Hutchings, Pat (2013) Cryptic diversity, intraspecific phenetic plasticity and recent geographical translocations in Branchiomma (Sabellidae, Annelida), Zoologica Scripta 42(6): 637-655

Fauchald, Kristian; Jumars, Peter A. (1979) The diet of worms : A study of polychaete feeding guilds, Oceanography and Marine Biology, an Annual Review 17: 193-284

Keppel, Erica; , Keith, Inti; Ruiz, Gregory M.; Carlton, James T. (2019) New records of native and non-indigenous polychaetes (Annelida: Polychaeta) in the Galapagos Islands, Aquatic Invasions 14(1): 59-84

Knight-Jones, Phyllis (1983) Contributions to the taxonomy of Sabellidae, Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 79: 245-295

Licciano, Margherita; Giangrande, Adriana (2008) The genus Branchiomma (Polychaeta: Sabellidae) in the Mediterranean Sea, with the description of B. maerli n. sp., Scientia Marina 73(3): 383-391

Mastrototaro, Francesco; Chimienti, Giovanni; Matarrese, Alfonso; Gambi, Maria Cristina; Giangrande, Adriana (2014) Growth and population dynamics of the non-indigenous species Branchiomma luctuosum Grube (Annelida, Sabellidae) in the Ionian Sea (Mediterranean Sea), Marine Ecology 36: 517-529

Ross, D. Jeff; Longmore, Andy R.; Keough, Michael J. (2013) Spatially variable effects of a marine pest on ecosystem function, Oecologia 172: 525-538

Ruiz, Gregory M.; Geller, Jonathan (2018) Spatial and temporal analysis of marine invasions in California, Part II: Humboldt Bay, Marina del Re, Port Hueneme, and San Francisco Bay, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center & Moss Landing Laboratories, Edgewater MD, Moss Landing CA. Pp. <missing location>

Tovar-Hernández, María Ana; Knight-Jones, Phyllis (2006) Species of Branchiomma (Polychaeta: Sabellidae) from the Caribbean Sea and Pacific coast of Panama, Zootaxa 1189: 1-37

Tovar-Hernandez, Maria Ana; Mendez, Nuria; Villalobos-Guerrero, Tulio Fabio (2009) Fouling polychaete worms from the southern Gulf of California: Sabellidae and Serpulidae, Systematics and Biodiversity 7(3): 319-336