NIWA Guide to Polychaeta | Shore polychaetes | Pick shore group | Pick shore family | Shell polychaetes
Oweniidae Family Oweniidae (oweniid)
Sabellida (Annelida: Polychaeta)
About Family Oweniidae polychaetes in New Zealand.  
How to recognise the family: Oweniids are permanent tube-dwellers but have minimal head structure. The mouth is at the tip, without a proboscis and may be rimmed by short feeding appendages. Oweniid body segments are elongate smooth cylinders, without parapodial lobes, appearing somewhat similar to those of maldanids, but the unusual arrangement of neuropodial chaetae consists of minute hooks, densely packed in enormous numbers on an oval pad. Oweniid hooks mostly have two claw-like parallel teeth, which is also unusual in polychaetes. The pygidium is a variously ornamented collar. Oweniids appear to be selective particulate feeders. The much-studied Owenia fusiformis Delle Chiaje, 1844 was thought to occur in many countries, of which New Zealand was again apparently one. Now a separate species has been described from Wellington Harbour. Adult size: To 70 mm in length.
How to recognise the New Zealand genera: Myriowenia has grooved head palps, and in Owenia the head has a short crown of broad feeding lobes which are tentacle-like and dichotomously branched, but Myriochele has just a collar-like head without appendages.
Quick pick shore species: Owenia petersenae Koh & Bhaud, 2003 is readily recognised by the overlapping pine-cone-like sets of tiles of shell and sand built into a tightly adhering flexible tube. This tube forms a protective armour coat very resistant to removal and bends with the worm as it moves its body to feed. The first three chaetigers are short, with capillaries only. From chaetiger four each segment also has a large neurochaetal pad of the microscopic hooks. The body colour is light green, except for brown areas on the first few chaetigers. Species of the other genera, Myriochele and Myriowenia, occur infrequently in offshore sediments, but are yet to have published taxonomic records.
Possible misidentifications: Maldanids do look similar but lack head tentacles and lack the dense arrays of tiny hooks.
Distributions, lifestyle, and habitat: Throughout New Zealand. Owenia petersenae occurs in sands of sheltered shores and is common in seagrass beds (Zostera spp.) It inhabits the lower shore and shallow subtidal. It is both a suspension and surface deposit feeder. Other genera occur offshore.
Abundance: Moderate.
Taxonomic note: Oweniids have some odd characteristics, including a unique bell-shaped larval form, the Mitraria larva, that make some biologists suggest they might belong in a class of their own outside the polychaetes. The family used to be known as the Ammocharidae.
References: (Dauvin & Thiebaut 1994: p383-404), (Koh & Bhaud 2003: p87-88, multiple fig.), (Milligan 1984b: p46.1-12, f46.1-8), (Morton & Miller 1973: p499, f196, 203).
(Full citations at Family pages literature cited list.)

Species in the guide: Rock Species: None for this family.
Sand Species: Owenia petersenae
Shell Species: None for this family.

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Last modified by G. Read, 25/07/2004    (dd/mm/yy)