Calcareous tube-worms generally identified as Spirorbis range from Ordovician to Recent, often profusely encrusting shells and other substrates. Whereas Recent Spirorbis is a polychaete annelid, details of tube structure in pre-Cretaceous ‘Spirorbis’ suggest affinities with the Microconchida, an extinct order of possible lophophorates. Although characteristically Palaeozoic, microconchid tube-worms survived the Permian mass extinction before being replaced in late Mesozoic ecosystems by true Spirorbis. Recent Spirorbis is stenohaline but spirorbiform microconchids also colonized freshwater, brackish and hypersaline environments during the Devonian–Triassic. Anomalies in the palaeoenvironmental distributions of fossil ‘Spirorbis’ are explained with the recognition of this striking convergence between microconchids and true Spirorbis.