|NIWA Guide to Polychaeta | Shore polychaetes | Pick shore group | Pick shore family | Shell polychaetes|
|Chaetopteridae||Family Chaetopteridae (chaetopterid/parchment worm)
Spionida (Annelida: Polychaeta)
|About Family Chaetopteridae polychaetes in New Zealand.|
|How to recognise the family:||Soft and fragile tube-dwellers with characteristic mid-body modifications for filter feeding by means of secreted mucous bags. The lengthy tubes are the easiest part of chaetopterids to recognise and are found in dense vertical tangled clusters buried partly or wholly in the sediment or attached to rock or other faunal growths. Most are composed of very durable hardened secretions from anterior ventral glands and long outlast the original builders. Some species live in characteristically annulated, translucent, slender tubes, e.g. Spiochaetopterus, some in very tough opaque tubes, brown (chitinous) or white (parchment-like) in colour. Both types may be branched. The tubes of Chaetopterus species are less durable, but still long-lasting. They are fibrous like a heavy paper (parchment), opaque, and likely to be more or less buried horizontally in the sediment, although some may be surface dwelling. The largest chaetopterid, large enough to be used for fish bait, is Chaetopterus variopedatus (Renier, 1804), a famous animal beloved by biology textbook authors for its bioluminescence, remarkable powers of regeneration from fragments, and rhythmic behaviour.|
Chaetopterids have a blunt head bearing a pair of palps outside an ovoid prostomium and sometimes a pair of small eyes. The body is strongly regionalised. There are a few anterior segments with just notopodia only, with distinctive strong spines present on chaetiger four, then two regions with notopodia and neuropodia. Middle-region notopodia are supported by embedded chaetae. Neuropodia have bands of fine uncini. There are no gills. Only about 30 chaetopterid species are known worldwide. Adult size: The tubes may be tens of centimetres long, but only 1-2 mm wide, except for Chaetopterus tubes which may be 2 cm or more wide. Chaetopterus species may be 80 mm in length; species of other genera are smaller.
|How to recognise the New Zealand genera:||The relationships and separation of the four chaetopterid genera are currently under re-evaluation, however the distinguishing characters are broadly as follows: the last anterior segment in Chaetopterus has a pair of long notopodia which secrete the mucous bag used in feeding, the first middle segment has a cupule which collects it, then follow three fan-like segments; in Phyllochaetopterus, Spiochaetopterus and Mesochaetopterus the mid-body segments include one or more with cupules and several with notopodial lobes which are bilobed in the first two genera but never bilobed in Mesochaetopterus; Phyllochaetopterus has an additional short pair of cirri-like structures ('antennae' of some descriptions, although they are probably modified notopodia) close to the palps. In all chaetopterids the notopodia of the posterior region are elongate.|
|Quick pick shore species:||At least one species of Chaetopterus does occur in New Zealand, and has been locally very abundant in recent years in the Hauraki Gulf, with large piles of tubes washing up in the drift line onshore. It may not be Chaetopterus variopedatus, whose worldwide status is very dubious.|
|Possible misidentifications:||The horny tubes of chaetopterids are confusable with sabellid tubes and the fine tubes of pogonophora (now regarded as siboglinid polychaetes).|
|Distributions, lifestyle, and habitat:||Subtidal throughout New Zealand. However, the Hauraki Chaetopterus may extend into the intertidal where very abundant. Tubes generally in dense colonies, in or near soft sediments but often attached to stones, buried objects and wharf piles.|
|Taxonomic note:||Most chaetopterids (except some Mesochaetopterus) are much smaller than Chaetopterus species, and, because of their soft bodies, very tough, thin tubes, and the clogging mucus in the tubes, are particularly difficult to examine successfully from bulk material and are usually poorly preserved. Preferably the worms should be carefully extracted while alive, but this is seldom possible. Little more can be said about assignment of the several New Zealand chaetopterids to species as they have not yet been studied in any detail. The names Phyllochaetopterus socialis ClaparFde, 1870, previously Phyllochaetopterus pictus Crossland, 1903, has been used for an aggregating species with branched annulated tubes but this identification is unconfirmed.|
|References:||(Augener 1926: p176), (Bhaud, Lastra & Petersen 1994: p115-133, f1-5), (Blake 1996d: p233-252, f6.1-5), (Day & Hutchings 1979: p125), (Gilbert 1984: p11.1-13, f11.1-8).
(Full citations at Family pages literature cited list.)
|Species in the guide:||Rock Species: Chaetopterus Chaetopterus-A|
|Sand Species: Chaetopterus Chaetopterus-A|
|Shell Species: None for this family.|
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Last modified by G. Read, 25/07/2004 (dd/mm/yy)