Guide to New Zealand Shore Polychaetes

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Platynereis new species, metamorphosed mature female (Nereididae)


Begin here ... which polychaete family-group?

Key to major groups

OR ... group known ... which polychaete family?

See families in Eunicida-group, Phyllodocida-group, Sabellida-group, Scolecida-group, Spionida-group, Terebellida-group.

OR ... family known ... which polychaete species?

See species in Arenicolidae, Capitellidae, Chaetopteridae, Cirratulidae, Cossuridae, Dorvilleidae,Eunicidae, Flabelligeridae, Glyceridae, Goniadidae, Hesionidae, Lumbrineridae, Magelonidae, Maldanidae, Nephtyidae, Nereididae, Opheliidae, Oenonidae, Onuphidae, Orbiniidae, Oweniidae, Paraonidae, Pectinariidae, Phyllodocidae, Polynoidae, Sabellariidae Sabellidae, Scalibregmatidae, Serpulidae, Sigalionidae, Spionidae, Syllidae, Terebellidae

How to identify worms using this guide

The guide has has three steps on this page to narrow down the possibilities, and then you can move directly to a species to test if it is what you have. First begin below to pick the likely family group, then glance through the short characterisations of each family of that group. If it matches your worm then either read much more about the family and its New Zealand species under the "more on ..." link, or go directly to one of the species links to see what one looks like. The most information, including a brief diagnosis and notes on biology, is displayed on the species pages. Links off that page give further technical information such as the synonymy (past records in the literature and past names used), and the technical diagnosis of the genus. Some species will have links to a published description and drawings. It is also possible to search various internet databases for further information on the species.

Which polychaete family group?

(A guide only, not using rigorous definition)


Head without paired feeding tentacles, without jaws. Each segment with or without a pair of gills.

Scolecida, a group of subsurface sediment eaters. Mostly found on soft shores. Few of this group live on rocky shores.

Head with one pair of flexible grooved feeding tentacles, without jaws. Anterior segments often with a pair of gills.

Spionida, a group of tube- or burrow-dwelling surface particle pickers. Mostly found on soft shores or subtidally. Few of this group live on rocky shores.

Head with many pairs of flexible feeding tentacles, without jaws.

Terebellida, a group of tube-dwelling particle pickers. Mostly found on soft shores, or in sediment subtidally, and some of this group are common in rock crevices.

Head usually with a terminal funnel-like fan of inflexible ‘tentacles,’ without jaws.

Sabellida, a group of tube-dwelling particle filterers. Some of this group live in colonial groups on rocky shores, some on soft shores, most live subtidally.

Head with chitinous jaws, usually (not Glyceridae, Goniadidae) also conspicuous eyes, and short sensory tentacles.

Jaws up to two pincer-like pairs terminal on extensible proboscis. Each segment usually without a pair of gills.

Phyllodocida, a group of mostly surface-wandering food graspers occurring everywhere. Some of this group are well-adapted to rock crevices.

Jaws only one pincer-like pair, barely extensible, but grouped with other toothed plates. Midbody segments often with pairs of gills.

Eunicida, a group of mostly burrowing food graspers, mostly subtidal, in sediment or on rock and coral. A few of this group are well-adapted to rock crevices. Few soft shores species.


Shore families and commonest shore species

Species names that are not clickable links do not yet have pages. Some of these will be added progressively. Others are mostly not known to be sufficiently widely occurring to be treated in detail here. Click on the "More on ..." links for each family, unless the name of the species sought is already known. A number of important polychaete families do not normally occur intertidally and are not mentioned here, and some rare families have been omitted.






  • Eunicida:

    Compiled by Geoffrey B. Read (comment and error reports welcome). Original content copyright © 2004 NIWA.
    The information found in this guide may be cited for publication or used for public education material.
    Please fully acknowledge re-use or quote. The recommended citation for the shore polychaete guide is as follows:

    Read, G. B. (Compiler) 2004. Guide to New Zealand Shore Polychaetes. Web publication. <> Date of access dd-mmm-yyyy