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How To Deal With A Bristle Worm Sting!

Bristle worms have always been a common animal in various salt water aquariums with the bristle worm either being intentionally added to the tank due to it being able to eat a huge amount of discarded food and detritus or by it being accidentally added to the tank when adding new plants, rocks, and substrate.

We have recently seen a spike in the number of people asking questions about bristle worms and have already published articles on the salt water centipede and common baby bristle worm questions that we see from the community.

With more and more people reaching out and asking questions due to aquarium keeping becoming increasingly popular, we have noticed a spike in the number of people reaching out and asking about the bristle worm sting.

We have actually seen so many questions from the community about the sting potential of a bristle worm that we put this article to the top of our list to answer the more common questions that we have seen from the community.

Our goal with this article is to try and put our reader’s mind at ease if possible as there really is very little to worry about.

Due to seeing a range of different questions about the sting potential of a bristle worm, we have decided to answer them all in this question and add a table of contents below to make the article as quick and easy to navigate for our readers as possible.

Can Bristle Worms Sting?

All species of bristle worm can bite and nip but not all species of bristle worm are poisonous so not every bristle worm is able to sting you.

On top of that, some bristle worm species who are poisonous don’t have poison strong enough to affect humans or some types of fish.

There are over 10,000 species of bristle worm with the majority not being poisonous so although you may feel a little nip if a bristle worm does bite or nip you, it is rare that you will feel a sting.

Some people do believe that the bristles on some species of bristle worm are venomous and will cause a sting but it is believed that this is usually people misidentifying a fireworm with a bristle worm.

In very rare situations, some species of bristle worm can live on anemone and have some of the sting from the anemone on them.

If you then pick up the bristle worm it may sting you but the actual sting is a chemical transfer from the anemone and not due to anything naturally on the bristle worm.

“Bristle worm – Hermodice carunculata” by prilfish is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit

Do Bristle Worms Sting Fish?

Some species of bristle worms will sting fish in self-defence if the fish tries to eat the bristle worm.

This does tend to be rare though with a large number of bristle worms not having any sting at all, this is why some people will intentionally add certain types of bristle worm to their aquariums due to them being harmless to fish while eating large amounts of detritus and discarded food.

Larger species of fish will usually see bristle worms, especially baby bristle worms as a source of food though. If you have accidentally added a bristle worm that has a sting to your tank then the bristle worm may sting your fish in self defense.

Depending on the exact species of bristle worm and the species of fish, this can range from the fish just being in pain for a couple of hours to having serious problems with its health.

The non-poisonous species of bristle worm will also bite and nip your fish in self defense given the chance too but this does tend to cause minimal injury to the majority of species of fish.

Some of the larger, more commonly kept salt water fish species will probably not even feel the nip of a non-poisonous bristle worm either.

Does A Bristle Worm Sting Hurt?

The majority of bristle worm species are not poisonous and their bites feel like tiny nips.

Out of the poisonous bristle worm species, there really is a range of sting strengths available depending on the specific species ranging from a slight tingling sensation all the way up to a burning sensation.

A sting from a bristle worm will usually last for a few hours in a human without treatment and due to being based on a poison, it is not possible to “suck it out” if you suck on the area that was bitten.

This is a common mistake that people make if they do end up stung by a bristle worm and it essentially does nothing.

As we touched on earlier in the article, it can be common for some people to confuse a bristle worm with a fireworm with the fireworm having a stronger sting than a bristle worm.

If you do accidentally touch a fireworm then you will definitely feel it but the sting should fade within a couple of hours.

Bristle Worm Sting Symptoms!

The common symptoms of a bristle worm sting range from inflammation and swelling to numbness, redness, and slight pain.

In rarer cases, symptoms also include a burning sensation that can end up being surprisingly painful considering the tiny size of a bristle worm but all symptoms usually fade within a few hours.

If you are an aquarium keeper then these symptoms can be difficult to detect in your fish that you suspect may have been stung by a bristle worm.

In addition to that, some of the more sensitive species of fish can be very sensitive to a bristle worm sting and may end up having some serious problems with it.

We know that a number of fish keepers will do everything they can to keep bristle worms out of their tanks due to having lost fish in the past due to a bristle worm bite.

This does usually tend to be rare though as bristle worm are not aggressive and will usually only bite or sting in self-defence if a fish is trying to eat them.

Bristle Worm Sting Treatment!

The best treatment for a bristle worm sting is to apply either vinegar or isopropyl alcohol to the area of the sting topically.

Vinegar does tend to offer quicker relief from the sting due to isopropyl alcohol coming in a number of different strengths with varying levels of effectiveness.

You should also inspect the area of the bristle worm sting to see if any of the bristles are stuck in your skin as this can also be very common.

If you do see the bristles stuck in you then you should try to remove them with tweezers if possible as a detached bristle worm bristle can keep stinging you.

If you suspect that one of your fish in your aquarium have been stung by a bristle worm then treatment can be difficult though.

More often than not, you will simply have to leave the fish to get over the sting in its own time as the available treatments will often change the pH and other water parameters of your tank and may cause other problems in the long run.


That brings our article going over the bristle worm sting to an end. We hope that we have been able to help you better understand the bristle worm sting and how you are able to treat it. As we touched on earlier though, there are over 10,000 different types of bristle worm with the majority of them not being able to sting you so it really is rare that you will have problems with them stinging you or your fish.