AskDefine | Define polychaete

Dictionary Definition

polychaete n : chiefly marine annelids possessing both sexes and having paired appendages (parapodia) bearing bristles [syn: polychete, polychaete worm, polychete worm]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. alternative spelling of polychete

Extensive Definition

The Polychaeta or polychaetes are a class of annelid worms, generally marine. Each body segment has a pair of fleshy protrusions called parapodia that bear many bristles, called chaetae, which are made of chitin. Indeed the polychaetes are sometimes referred to as bristle worms. More than 10,000 species are described in this class. Common representatives include the lugworm (Arenicola marina) and the sandworm or clam worm Nereis.

Anatomy and physiology

The polychaetes' paddle-like and highly vascularized parapodia are used for movement and act as the annelid's primary respiratory surfaces (parapodia can be thought of as kinds of external gills that are also used for locomotion). Polychaeta also have well-developed heads compared to other annelids.


Polychaetes are extremely variable in both form and lifestyle and include a few taxa that swim among the plankton. Most burrow or build tubes on the bottom, and some live as commensals. A few are parasitic. The mobile forms or Errantia tend to have well-developed sense organs and jaws, while the Sedentaria (or stationary forms) lack them but may have specialized gills or tentacles used for respiration and deposit or filter feeding, e.g., fanworms.
A few groups have evolved to live in terrestrial environments, like Namanereidinae with many terrestrial species, but are restricted to humid areas. Some have even evolved cutaneous invaginations for aerial gas exchange.
One notable polychaete, the Pompeii worm (Alvinella pompejana) is endemic to the hydrothermal vents of the Pacific Ocean. Pompeii worms are thought to be the most heat-tolerant complex animals known.
A recently discovered genus Osedax includes the Bone-eating snot flower.
Another remarkable polychaete is Hesiocaeca methanicola, which lives on methane clathrate deposits.
Lamellibrachia luymesi is a cold seep tube worm that reaches lengths of over 3 meters and may be the most long lived animal at over 250 years old.

Evolutionary history

The oldest crown group polychaetes fossils come from the Sirius Passet , which is tentatively dated to the lower-middle Atdabanian (early Cambrian). Many of the more famous Burgess Shale organisms, such as Canadia and Wiwaxia, may also have polychate affinites. An even older fossil, Cloudina, dates to the terminal Ediacaran period; this has been interpreted as an early polychaete, although consensus is absent.
Being soft bodied, the fossil record of polychaetes is dominated by their fossilized jaws, known as scolecodonts, and the mineralized tubes that some of them secrete.

Taxonomy and systematics

Taxonomically, the polychaetes are thought to be paraphyletic, meaning that as a group it contains its most recent common ancestor, but does not contain all the descendants of that ancestor. Groups that may be descended from the polychaetes include the earthworms, the leeches, sipunculans, and echiurans. The Pogonophora and Vestimentifera were once considered separate phyla, but are now classified in the polychaete family Siboglinidae.
Much of the classification below matches Rouse & Fauchald, 1998, although that paper does not apply ranks above family.
Older classifications recognize many more (sub)orders than the layout presented here. As comparatively few polychaete taxa have been subject to cladistic analysis, some groups which are usually considered invalid today may eventually be reinstated.

See also

  • Epitoky, a form of reproduction of Polychaetae.


  • Campbell, Reece, and Mitchell. Biology. 1999.

External links

polychaete in Catalan: Poliquet
polychaete in Czech: Mnohoštětinatci
polychaete in German: Vielborster
polychaete in Estonian: Hulkharjasussid
polychaete in Spanish: Polychaeta
polychaete in Esperanto: Poliĥetoj
polychaete in French: Polychaeta
polychaete in Indonesian: Polychaeta
polychaete in Italian: Polychaeta
polychaete in Hebrew: רב זיפיות
polychaete in Lithuanian: Daugiašerės žieduotosios kirmėlės
polychaete in Macedonian: Полихети
polychaete in Dutch: Borstelwormen
polychaete in Japanese: 多毛類
polychaete in Norwegian: Havbørsteormer
polychaete in Polish: Wieloszczety
polychaete in Portuguese: Polychaeta
polychaete in Russian: Многощетинковые черви
polychaete in Simple English: Polychaeta
polychaete in Slovak: Mnohoštetinavce
polychaete in Slovenian: Mnogoščetinci
polychaete in Serbian: Многочекињасти црви
polychaete in Finnish: Monisukasmadot
polychaete in Swedish: Havsborstmaskar
polychaete in Thai: โพลีคีทา
polychaete in Turkish: Deniz halkalı solucanları
polychaete in Ukrainian: Поліхети
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