No, this isn’t a unique shell. It’s a creepy, crawly creature on a Texas beach.

The plumed worm can grow up to a foot long, according to the Padre Island National Seashore

Pictured is a plumed worm. (National Park Service) (National Park Service/KSAT)

PADRE ISLAND, Texas – The image below may look like a long rope covered in seashells or a unique shell, but according to Padre Island National Seashore, that’s not the case.

At first glance, this looks like it might be a unique shell, but upon closer inspection, you can see that there are a...

Posted by Padre Island National Seashore on Tuesday, April 19, 2022

This lengthy, rope-like creature is actually a “plumed worm” and it can be found in many coastal areas, including in Texas. Though typically, it lives buried in the sand.

PINS officials said the worm can grow “up to a foot long” and it “builds a J-shaped tube around itself” for its home.

The seashells, pictured above, are attached to the worm’s J-shaped tube, serving as protection as it travels for food.

“To protect its soft body as it darts out into the water column to grab food, the worm creates a chimney like extension to its underground tube. The chimney tube, seen in this image, sticks about two or three inches above the surface of the sand,” PINS officials said in a statement.

Not all plumed worms use shells for protection. Instead, what these worms attach to their tubes depends on their surroundings and what debris is available, according to the PINS. This debris can range from pebbles, seaweed, grains of sand, etc.

“Regardless of what the tube worm tube is covered in, it is interesting to note that the objects have a consistent size and shape,” PINS officials said.

These worms also have quite an interesting appearance, in addition to their tubes. According to Sanibel Sea School’s website, they have plumed gills, antennae and large jaws.

Plumed worms eat plankton as their main food source and their jaws help construct their protective coverings on their tube.

If you stumble upon one of these plumed worms at the beach, don’t step on it. But, take a peek inside of their tubes -- you may see the worm face-to-face.

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About the Author:

Cody King is a digital journalist for KSAT 12. She previously worked for WICS/WRSP 20 in Springfield, Illinois.