Skip to content Skip to navigation

Class Polychaeta

Segmented worms: elongate bodies composed of serially repeated subunits. Polychaetes comprise the largest class of the phylum. They are extremely abundant and diverse, but unfortunately they're noticed only rarely in the field due to small size and cryptic habit. Sessile tube-dwellers are most likely to be seen, but free-living burrowers and nestlers are everywhere. 10,000 living species.

Family Sabellidae

Family Serpulidae

Family Sabellariidae

Family Terrebellidae

Family Cirratulidae

Family Chaetopteridae

Family Aphroditidae

Family Hesionidae

Family Arenicolidae

Family Maldanidae

Family Onuphidae

 

Family Sabellidae


Eudistylia polymorphaEudistylia polymorpha  (Johnson, 1901)

Phylum Annelida, Class Polychaeta, Order Sabellida, Family Sabellidae

Large feather duster worm to 25 cm (usually less); large branchial plume 30-40 mm diameter may be pale orange, tan or maroon (inset); tube is non-calcareous parchment.

Common, projecting from crevices in rocks; also on wharf pilings and marina floats.

Geogr. Range: Alaska to southern California
Synonyms:
Similar species:
Eudistylia vancouveri occurs in soft substrate in Monterey rather than rock; its branchial plume is maroon & dark green.

Image: Dodecaceria (dots in coralline algae)

 

uparrow


Eudistylia vancouveriEudistylia vancouveri  (Kinberg, 1867)

Phylum Annelida, Class Polychaeta, Order Sabellida, Family Sabellidae

Large feather duster worm; branchial plume 40 mm or more across, radioles usually with transverse bands of dark green or tan & maroon.  In smaller individuals, end of tube flattens and curls up when worm withdraws.

Common; in sandy substrate adjacent to kelp forests in Monterey region, usually solitary, but associated with beds of Diopatra ornata.

Geogr. Range: Alaska to central California
Synonyms:
Similar species:
Eudistylia polymorpha is very similar, but usually occurs in rocky areas and its branchial plume is uniform orange, tan, or maroon.

 

uparrow


Myxicola infundibulumMyxicola infundibulum  (Renier, 1804)

Phylum Annelida, Class Polychaeta, Order Sabellida, Family Sabellidae

Body to 9 cm; branchial plume usually green but also yellow or brown 10-15 mm diameter; adjacent radioles of branchial plume connected by membrane, forming a funnel; secretes a thick gelatinous mass (rather than a tube) in which it lives.

Common, often occurring in clusters in crevices on rocks or in sandy patches between rocks in kelp forests; branchial plume usually flush with substratum.

Geogr. Range: Bering Sea to California
Synonyms:
Similar species:
other sabellids secrete tubes rather than gelatinous masses to live in. Chone mollis is a smaller sabellid that occurs in the same microhabitat, but its branchial plume is smaller, more brightly colored & has transverse bands.

 

uparrow


Chone mollisChone mollis  (Bush, 1904)

Phylum Annelida, Class Polychaeta, Order Sabellida, Family Sabellidae

Tube worm to 6 cm; tubes of mucus with attached sand grains; branchial plume 5-10 mm diameter, pale rose in color often with white bands, flush with surface of substratum; adjacent radioles joined by membrane but tips free.

Locally abundant; in sand near rocky outcrops usually in between large tubes of Diopatra ornata.  

Geogr. Range: central to southern California
Synonyms:
Similar species: Myxicola infundibulum is larger, usually with dull olive or green branchial plume rather than rose.

 

uparrow


Bispira sp.Bispira sp.

Phylum Annelida, Class Polychaeta, Order Sabellida, Family Sabellidae

Tube worm to 5 cm long; branchial plume 15 mm across, pale purple to maroon speckled with dark photosensitive eyespots.

Common, but inconspicuous; in crevices on rocks in kelp forest depths.

Geogr. Range: Alaska to southern California
Synonyms: Sabella crassicornis
Similar species: Eudistylia  is larger with more tentacles in its branchial plume and lacks pigmented spots on radioles.

Image: Lagenicella (rt. side), Celleporina (lower left)

 

uparrow


Megalomma pigmentumMegalomma pigmentum (Reish, 1963)

Phylum Annelida, Class Polychaeta, Order Sabellida, Family Sabellidae

Membranous tubes covered densely with sand grains; branchial plume 15 mm across, cream with 4 dark concentric pigmented bands; two dorsal-most radioles with black eyes at the tip. Worm to 5 cm.

Moderately common, in rocky crevices and in sandy areas adjacent to rocky outcrops mixed with Diopatra ornata.

Geogr. Range: central to southern California
Synonyms:
Similar species: Eudistylia  is larger with more tentacles in its branchial plume.  Megaloma splendida is similar, but has 4-6 radioles tipped with black eye spots rather than just 2.

 

uparrow

 

Family Serpulidae


Serpula columbianaSerpula columbiana  Johnson, 1901

Phylum Annelida, Class Polychaeta, Order Sabellida, Family Serpulidae

Tube of white CaCO3; often coiled on rocks to 10 cm long. Branchial plume 10 mm diameter, red, pink or orange, usually banded with white.  One tentacle modified as a trumpet-shaped operculum.

Common, on rocks and in crevices at most kelp forest sites.

Geogr. Range: Alaska to San Diego
Synonyms: Serpula vermicularis
Similar species:

Image: Boltenia (left side), Balanophyllia (lower rt.)

 

uparrow


Salmacina tribranchiataSalmacina tribranchiata  (Moore, 1923)

Phylum Annelida, Class Polychaeta, Order Sabellida, Family Serpulidae

Mass of very delicate fragile white calcareous tubes, each only ~2 mm diameter; branchial crown bright red.

Moderately common, on rocks among algae and other sessile invertebrates.

Geogr. Range: British Columbia to southern California
Synonyms:
Similar species:
other local serpulids have calcareous tubes, but are much larger in diameter.

Image: Calliarthron (across top), Rhodymenia pacifica (bottom rt.)

 

uparrow


SpirorbidsSpirorbids

Phylum Annelida, Class Polychaeta, Order Sabellida, Family Serpulidae

Tiny white calcareous tube coiled tightly into a spiral only a few mm across & 0.5-1 mm diameter; tentacles orange to red with small trumpet-shaped operculum of same color.

Abundant on undersides of rocks, on algae, shells, or just about any other available surface.

>Geogr. Range: occur world-wide
Synonyms:
Similar species:
there are at least a dozen different species divided into several genera; all require high magnification to distinguish.

Image: Balanus (lower rt.), Crisia (top left), several different encrusting bryozoans around worm tubes.

 

uparrow

 

Family Sabellariidae


Phragmatopoma californicaPhragmatopoma californica  (Fewkes, 1889)

Phylum Annelida, Class Polychaeta, Order Sabellida, Family Sabellariidae

Tubes 3-4 mm diameter of cemented sand grains with short purple tentacles & operculum protruding; worm to 5 cm; often in large aggregations (from gregarious larval settlement, not asexual division).

Common; can form large reefs several meters across on rocky substrate in both intertidal & subtidal, especially with moderate water motion and nearby fine sand.

Geogr. Range: central California to Baja
Synonyms:
Similar species:
Sabellaria cementarium has golden tentacles instead of purple and doesn't form large reef-size aggregations like Phragmatopoma.

 

uparrow


Sabellaria cementariumSabellaria cementarium  Moore, 1906

Phylum Annelida, Class Polychaeta, Order Sabellida, Family Sabellariidae

Tubes 3-4 mm diameter of cemented sand grains; tentacles & operculum yellow or gold (not purple); worm to 8 cm.  

Moderately common, but less conspicuous than Phragmatopoma; sometimes occurs as solitary tubes.

Geogr. Range: Alaska to southern California
Synonyms: Neosabellaria cementarium
Similar species: Phragmatopoma californica has similar tubes, but forms large reefs and has purple tentacles+operculum rather than yellow.

 

uparrow

 

Family Terrebellidae


Thelepus crispusThelepus crispus  Johnson, 1901

Phylum Annelida, Class Polychaeta, Order Terebellida, Family Terebellidae

Worms to 28 cm; membranous tubes ~5 mm diameter encrusted with sand; numerous long transparent tentacles spread out in all directions from mouth of tube. Tentacles cannot be withdrawn fully into mouth.

Common, in sandy areas adjacent to rocky outcrops in kelp forests; often in association with beds of Diopatra ornata.

Geogr. Range: Alaska to southern California
Synonyms:
Similar species:

Image: Diopatra tubes (surrounding)

 

uparrow


Pista elongataPista elongata  Moore, 1909

Phylum Annelida, Class Polychaeta, Order Terebellida, Family Terebellidae

Worm to 20 cm with non-calcareous tube terminating in a flattened basket 10-12 mm across of reticulating intertwined fibers.

Uncommon, in rocky habitats, in crevices & under rocks. Like other terrebellids, deposit feeds with elongate tentacles that harvest particles from surrounding rock or sand surfaces.

Geogr. Range: British Columbia to San Diego
Synonyms:
Similar species:
Pista pacifca occurs in more protected locations, its tube has a flattened hood at the end instead of a basket-like cap.

Image: Acanthancora (blue), Balanophyllia (middle left, rt. side)

 

uparrow

 

Family Cirratulidae


Cirriformia spirabranchaCirriformia spirabrancha (Moore, 1904)

Phylum Annelida, Class Polychaeta, Order Terebellida, Family Cirratulidae

Large worm 20 cm long, 4-6 mm diameter; clusters 20-30 mm across of spaghetti-like dorsal tentacular filaments are usually only visible portion of worm.

Moderately common, but very cryptic, in crevices among rocks or buried in sand between rock outcrops.

Geogr. Range: northern & central California
Synonyms:
Similar species:
Cirriformia moorei occurs on mudflats and is often misidentified as C. spirabrancha.

 

uparrow


Dodecaceria fewkesiDodecaceria fewkesi  Berkeley & Berkeley, 1954

Phylum Annelida, Class Polychaeta, Order Terebellida, Family Cirratulidae

Medium-size worm to 40 mm with dark green to black body and tentacles; constructs cloned masses of calcareous tubes 3-5 mm diameter.

Erect tube masses common on rocks in kelp forest; forms pavement-like masses in rocky intertidal; feeds on small particulate detritus captured with tentacles.

Geogr. Range: British Columbia to southern California
Synonyms:
Similar species:
Dodecaceria concharum is smaller & usually surrounded by encrusting coralline algae or other calcaeous substrate; microscopically, it has more elongate anterior segments & its cirri originate dorsally throughout.

 

uparrow


Dodecaceria concharumDodecaceria concharum  Oersted, 1843

Phylum Annelida, Class Polychaeta, Order Terebellida, Family Cirratulidae

Small worm (8-10 mm) with dark green to black body and tentacles; most frequently seen as dark crowns of tentacles 0.5-1 mm across protruding from pink encrusting coralline algae.

Abundant on rocks with encrusting coralline algae into which it bores.

Geogr. Range: cosmopolitan in N. Atlantic & eastern Pacific.
Synonyms:
Similar species: Dodecaceria fewkesi is larger & forms clumps of erect CaCO3 tubes; microscopically, anterior segements are much more compressed & bases of cirri are dorsal anteriorly but shift to lateral farther back on body.

Image:  Dermasterias imbricata (upper rt.)

 

uparrow

 

Family Chaetopteridae


Phyllochaetopterus prolificaPhyllochaetopterus prolifica  Potts, 1914

Phylum Annelida, Class Polychaeta, Order Spionida, Family Chaetopteridae

Tangled mass of tubes, 10-15 cm & only 1-1.5 mm diameter; worms extend two palps from end of tube for feeding.

Moderately common but often inconspicuous, nestled in crevices; rocky habitats & wharf pilings. Worms divide asexually within tube & regenerate missing portions; several immature worms may be in a single tube.

Geogr. Range: British Columbia to southern California
Synonyms:
Similar species:

Image: Serpula (left cntr), Celleporina (orange on tubes), Phidolopora (upper left side)

 

uparrow

 

Family Aphroditidae


Aphrodita japonicaAphrodita japonica  Marenzeller, 1879

Phylum Annelida, Class Polychaeta, Order Phyllodocida, Family Aphroditidae

Sea mouse; large flattened worm to 18 cm tapering at both ends; covered with fine felt-like setae that trap detritus.

Uncommon, on sand, sometimes in Diopatra beds; probably sluggish predators on sessile or small prey and/or deposit feeders.

Geogr. Range: Japan, Alaska to southern California
Synonyms:
Similar species:

 

uparrow

 

Family Hesionidae


Ophiodromus pugettensisOphiodromus pugettensis (Johnson, 1901)

Phylum Annelida, Class Polychaeta, Order Phyllodocida, Family Hesionidae

Small worms to 4 cm but usually smaller; dark brown to black with 6 pairs of cirri on head.

Common; most frequently encountered as a commensal among tube feet of Patiria miniata & other sea stars.  Also occurs free-living. Omnivorous scavengers. 

Geogr. Range: British Columbia to Gulf of California
Synonyms:
Similar species:

Image: worms are on oral surface of the bat star, Patiria miniata.

 

uparrow

 

Family Onuphidae


Diopatra ornataDiopatra ornata Kinberg, 1865

Phylum Annelida, Class Polychaeta, Order Eunicida, Family Onuphidae

Tube worm to 17 cm; distinctive tube arches over so aperture faces downward toward substrate; tube chitinized internally w. external decoratations of shell fragments, algae & other debris on the outside.  Tube cap ~10 cm long.

Very abundant in sand patches adjacent to rocky outcrops; also in small clusters in rocky crevices. Deposit feeder & microcarnivore.

Geogr. Range: central California to Baja
Synonyms:
Similar species:
no other local polychaetes have tubes similar to Diopatra.

 

uparrow

 

Family Arenicolidae


Arenicola brasiliensisArenicola brasiliensis Nonato, 1958

Phylum Annelida, Class Polychaeta, Order Scolecida, Family Arenicolidae

Lug worms; large burrowers to 18 cm; usually evident in kelp forests only by balloon-like egg cases 15 cm long attached to sandy patches among rocks in spring & summer.

Moderately common; worm lives in semi-permanent J-shaped burrows; burrowing deposit feeder.

Geogr. Range: both coasts of North & South America, Hawaii, Japan, Australia
Synonyms:
Similar species:

 

uparrow

 

Family Maldanidae


Praxillura maculataPraxillura maculata  Moore, 1923

Phylum Annelida, Class Polychaeta, Order Scolecida, Family Maldanidae

Windmill worm; tube stiff non-calcified with distinctive radiating arms around aperture; erect portion 4-5 cm tall.

Uncommon, may be a recent range extension from southern California; in sandy areas surrounding rocky outcrops. Worm secretes mucus strings around radiating arms to capture particulate material on which it feeds.

Geogr. Range: central to southern California (formerly reported only from Channel Is. off Santa Barbara).
Synonyms:
Similar species:
several terrebellids polychaetes have distinctive tube caps (Thelepus, Diopatra, etc), but none resemble the radiating spokes of Praxillura.

 

uparrow