Chaetopterus variopedatus

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Chaetopterus variopedatus
A monograph of the British marine annelids 1915 LXXXIX.jpg
C. variopedatus(figure 3)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Annelida
Class: Polychaeta
Order: Phyllodocida
Family: Chaetopteridae
Genus: Chaetopterus
Species:C. variopedatus
Binomial name
Chaetopterus variopedatus
Renier, 1804
  • C. afer Quatrefages, 1866
  • C. antarcticus Kinberg, 1866
  • C. appendiculatus Grube, 1874
  • C. australis Quatrefages, 1866
  • C. brevis Lespés, 1872
  • C. capensis Stimpson, 1856
  • C. cautus Marenzeller, 1879
  • C. crosslandi Caullery, 1944
  • C. hamatus Schmarda, 1961
  • C. insignis Baird, 1864
  • C. kagosimensis Izuka, 1911
  • C. leuckarti Quatrefages, 1866
  • C. longimanus Crossland, 1904
  • C. longipes Crossland, 1904
  • C. luteus Stimpson, 1856
  • C. macropus Schmarda, 1861
  • C. norvegicus M. Sars, 1835
  • C. pergamentaceus Cuvier, 1827
  • C. quatrefagesii Jourdain, 1868
  • C. sarsi Boeck in Sars, 1860
  • C. sarsii Boeck in Sars, 1860
  • C. takahashii Izuka, 1911
  • C. valencinii Quatrefages, 1866
  • C. variopedatus macropus Schmarda, 1861
  • Tricoelia variopedatus Renier, 1804

Chaetopterus variopedatus is a species of parchment worm, a marine polychaete in the family Chaetopteridae. It is found worldwide. However, recent discoveries from molecular phylogeny analysis show that Chaetopterus variopedatus sensu Hartman (1959) is not a single species.

In biology, a species ( ) is the basic unit of classification and a taxonomic rank of an organism, as well as a unit of biodiversity. A species is often defined as the largest group of organisms in which any two individuals of the appropriate sexes or mating types can produce fertile offspring, typically by sexual reproduction. Other ways of defining species include their karyotype, DNA sequence, morphology, behaviour or ecological niche. In addition, paleontologists use the concept of the chronospecies since fossil reproduction cannot be examined. While these definitions may seem adequate, when looked at more closely they represent problematic species concepts. For example, the boundaries between closely related species become unclear with hybridisation, in a species complex of hundreds of similar microspecies, and in a ring species. Also, among organisms that reproduce only asexually, the concept of a reproductive species breaks down, and each clone is potentially a microspecies.

Family is one of the eight major hierarchical taxonomic ranks in Linnaean taxonomy; it is classified between order and genus. A family may be divided into subfamilies, which are intermediate ranks between the ranks of family and genus. The official family names are Latin in origin; however, popular names are often used: for example, walnut trees and hickory trees belong to the family Juglandaceae, but that family is commonly referred to as being the "walnut family".

Chaetopteridae family of annelids

The Chaetopteridae are a family of marine filter-feeding polychaete worms that live in vertical or U-shaped tubes in tunnels buried in the sedimentary or hard substrate of marine environments. The worms are highly adapted to the hard tube they secrete. Inside the tube the animal is segmented and regionally specialized, with highly modified appendages on different segments for cutting the tunnel, feeding, or creating suction for the flow of water through the tube home. The modified segments for feeding are on the 12th segment from the head for members of this family.


Polychaetes, or marine bristle worms, have elongated bodies divided into many segments. Each segment may bear setae (bristles) and parapodia (paddle-like appendages). Some species live freely, either swimming, crawling or burrowing, and these are known as "errant". Others live permanently in tubes, either calcareous or parchment-like, and these are known as "sedentary".

Segmentation in biology is the division of some animal and plant body plans into a series of repetitive segments. This article focuses on the segmentation of animal body plans, specifically using the examples of the taxa Arthropoda, Chordata, and Annelida. These three groups form segments by using a "growth zone" to direct and define the segments. While all three have a generally segmented body plan and use a growth zone, they use different mechanisms for generating this patterning. Even within these groups, different organisms have different mechanisms for segmenting the body. Segmentation of the body plan is important for allowing free movement and development of certain body parts. It also allows for regeneration in specific individuals.

The term parapodium refers to two different organs. In annelids, parapodia are paired, un-jointed lateral outgrowths that bear the chaetae. In several groups of sea snails and sea slugs, 'parapodium' refers to lateral fleshy protrusions.


Chaetopterus sp. Chaetopterus.png
Chaetopterus sp.

C. variopedatus builds and lives permanently in a tough, flexible, papery U-shaped tube buried in soft substrate with both ends protruding like little chimneys. The worm itself is segmented, pale coloured and up to twenty-five centimetres long. The anterior end is short and has bristle-bearing segments and a shovel-like mouth. [1] The middle section bears parapodia. On the 12th segment these are modified into long wing-like structures which secrete mucus and form a bag. The parapodia on segments 13, 14 and 15 are fused into three paddle-shaped, piston-like structures, the purpose of which is to pump water through the tube. The water is drawn in through the anterior end and expelled through the posterior end, [1] passing through the fine mesh of the mucus bag where food particles get trapped. The mucus bag is later rolled up and passed by a conveyor belt of whipping hairs in the ciliated dorsal groove [2] to the mouth where it is swallowed whole. [3] The posterior half of the worm is segmented and tapers towards the rear, bearing appendages on each segment. [4]

Appendage external body part, or natural prolongation, that protrudes from an organisms body (in vertebrate biology, an example would be a vertebrates limbs); any of the homologous body parts that may extend from a body segment

In invertebrate biology, an appendage is an external body part, or natural prolongation, that protrudes from an organism's body. An appendage is any of the homologous body parts that may extend from a body segment. These include antennae, mouthparts, gills, walking legs (pereiopods), swimming legs (pleopods), sexual organs (gonopods), and parts of the tail (uropods). Typically, each body segment carries one pair of appendages.

Distribution and habitat

C. variopedatus has a cosmopolitan distribution, occurring in shallow coastal habitats in both temperate and tropical locations throughout the world. [1] It is plentiful around the coasts of Britain and Ireland but is absent from the east coast of England south of the Tees estuary. The tough permanent tubes are found buried in sand and gravel in the littoral and sub-littoral zones. At greater depths they are found adhering to bedrock, in crevices and under boulders. [4]

Cosmopolitan distribution biogeographic term

In biogeography, a taxon is said to have a cosmopolitan distribution if its range extends across all or most of the world in appropriate habitats. Such a taxon is said to exhibit cosmopolitanism or cosmopolitism. The opposite extreme is endemism.

Neritic zone The relatively shallow part of the ocean above the drop-off of the continental shelf

The neritic zone is the relatively shallow part of the ocean above the drop-off of the continental shelf, approximately 200 meters (660 ft) in depth. From the point of view of marine biology it forms a relatively stable and well-illuminated environment for marine life, from plankton up to large fish and corals, while physical oceanography sees it as where the oceanic system interacts with the coast.

In New Zealand there have been many recent reports of the parchment-like tubes of Chaetopterus littering beaches, especially after storms. Since about 1995, large areas of shallow sea have been invaded by the worm, believed to be C. variopedatus. By covering the sandy bottom with a dense mat of tubes, the parchment worm makes life very difficult for the native bottom-dwelling fauna. Other marine worms, clams and starfish have been squeezed out, but the big-belly seahorse (Hippocampus abdominalis) has thrived as it finds extra prey in the tiny sea slaters and mysid shrimps it finds between the tubes and can anchor itself by its tail to prevent itself being swept away. [2]

Fauna set of animal species in any particular region and time

Fauna is all of the animal life present in a particular region or time. The corresponding term for plants is flora. Flora, fauna and other forms of life such as fungi are collectively referred to as biota. Zoologists and paleontologists use fauna to refer to a typical collection of animals found in a specific time or place, e.g. the "Sonoran Desert fauna" or the "Burgess Shale fauna". Paleontologists sometimes refer to a sequence of faunal stages, which is a series of rocks all containing similar fossils. The study of animals of a particular region is called faunistics.

Clam common name

Clam is a common name for several kinds of bivalve molluscs. The word is often applied only to those that are edible and live as infauna, spending most of their lives partially buried in the sand of the ocean floor. Clams have two shells of equal size connected by two adductor muscles and have a powerful burrowing foot. Clams in the culinary sense do not live attached to a substrate and do not live near the bottom. In culinary usage, clams are commonly eaten marine bivalves, as in clam digging and the resulting soup, clam chowder. Many edible clams such as palourde clams are oval or triangular; however, razor clams have an elongated parallel-sided shell, suggesting an old-fashioned straight razor.

Starfish class of echinoderms, marine animal

Starfish or sea stars are star-shaped echinoderms belonging to the class Asteroidea. Common usage frequently finds these names being also applied to ophiuroids, which are correctly referred to as brittle stars or basket stars. About 1,500 species of starfish occur on the seabed in all the world's oceans, from the tropics to frigid polar waters. They are found from the intertidal zone down to abyssal depths, 6,000 m (20,000 ft) below the surface.


A female C. variopedatus can produce and liberate a batch of 150,000 to 1 million eggs into the sea. After fertilisation, the developing larvae become part of the plankton, drifting and feeding for some weeks until they settle out. [5] The development of C. variopedatus follows an unusual pattern in that those segments destined to become part of the mid-body region have accelerated development as compared with the anterior segments. This heterochrony is not seen in other polychaete worms. [3]

Larva juvenile form of distinct animals before metamorphosis

A larva is a distinct juvenile form many animals undergo before metamorphosis into adults. Animals with indirect development such as insects, amphibians, or cnidarians typically have a larval phase of their life cycle.

Plankton Organisms that live in the water column and are incapable of swimming against a current

Plankton are the diverse collection of organisms that live in large bodies of water and are unable to swim against a current. The individual organisms constituting plankton are called plankters. They provide a crucial source of food to many large aquatic organisms, such as fish and whales.

Heterochrony evolutionary change in the rates or durations of developmental events, leading to structural changes over long time scales

In evolutionary developmental biology, heterochrony is a developmental change in the timing or rate of events, leading to changes in size and shape of organs and features over evolutionary time scales. It is contrasted with heterotopy, a change in spatial positioning of some process in the embryo, which can also create morphological innovation. Following the framework of Reilly et al, heterochrony can be divided into intraspecific heterochrony that explains variation within a species, and interspecific heterochrony that explains developmental variation phylogenetically, in the timing or rate of events of a descendent species with respect to an ancestral species.


Several species of crabs have adopted the tubes of C. variopedatus as their home with Pinnixa chaetopterana , Polyonyx gibbesi and certain Pisidia species living almost exclusively within the tubes although they do not share a tube with each other. [3] It is likely that the crabs gain protection from predators within the tubes and possibly food from the host worm. [6]

Bottom-feeding fish and crustaceans probably prey on C. variopedatus but the worm is made less accessible by the fact that it never emerges from its tube which is safely buried beneath the surface of the substrate. If it becomes injured, this worm has the ability to regenerate its entire body from a single segment. [7] Another anti-predator strategy involves emitting a luminescent cloud of mucus from its tube. [8]

Related Research Articles

Sabellidae family of annelids

Sabellidae are a family of marine polychaete tube worms characterized by protruding feathery branchiae. Sabellids build tubes out of a tough, parchment-like exudate, strengthened with sand and bits of shell. Unlike the other sabellids, the genus Glomerula secretes a tube of calcium carbonate instead. Sabellidae can be found in subtidal habitats around the world. Their oldest fossils are known from the Early Jurassic.

<i>Chaetopterus</i> genus of annelids

Chaetopterus or the parchment worm or parchment tube worm is a genus of marine polychaete worm that lives in a tube it constructs in sediments or attaches to a rocky or coral reef substrate. The common name arises from the parchment-like appearance of the tubes that house these worms. Parchment tube worms are filter feeders and spend their adult lives in their tubes, unless the tube is damaged or destroyed. They are planktonic in their juvenile forms, as is typical for polychaete annelids. Species include the recently discovered deep water Chaetopterus pugaporcinus and the well-studied Chaetopterus variopedatus.

<i>Alitta succinea</i> Common clam worm

Alitta succinea is a species of marine annelid in the family Nereididae. It has been recorded throughout the North West Atlantic, as well as in the Gulf of Maine and South Africa.

<i>Pomatoceros triqueter</i> species of annelid

Pomatoceros triqueter is a species of tube-building annelid worm in the class Polychaeta. It is common on the north eastern coasts of the Atlantic Ocean and in the Mediterranean Sea.

<i>Hydroides norvegica</i> species of annelid

Hydroides norvegica is a species of tube-forming annelid worm in the family Serpulidae. It is found on submerged rocks, shells, piles and boats in many coastal areas around the world. It is the type species of the genus Hydroides.

Spirorbis borealis is a sedentary marine polychaete worm in the Serpulidae family. It is commonly called the sinistral spiral tubeworm and is the type species of the genus Spirorbis.

<i>Sabellastarte spectabilis</i> species of annelid

Sabellastarte spectabilis is a species of benthic marine polychaete worm in the Sabellidae family. It is commonly known as the feather duster worm, feather duster or fan worm. It is native to tropical waters of the Indo-Pacific but has spread to other parts of the world. It is popular in aquariums because of its distinctive appearance and its ability to remove organic particles and improve water quality.

Phyllodocida order of annelid worms

Phyllodocida is an order of polychaete worms in the subclass Aciculata. These worms are mostly marine though some are found in brackish water. Most are active benthic creatures, moving over the surface or burrowing in sediments, or living in cracks and crevices in bedrock. A few construct tubes in which they live and some are pelagic, swimming through the water column. There are estimated to be about 3,500 species in the order.

Pinnixa chaetopterana, the tube pea crab, is a small decapod crustacean that lives harmlessly within the tube of the polychaete worm, Chaetopterus variopedatus.

<i>Amphitrite ornata</i> species of annelid

Amphitrite ornata or ornate worm, is a species of marine polychaete worm in the family Terebellidae.

<i>Cirratulus cirratus</i> species of annelid

Cirratulus cirratus is a species of marine polycheate worm in the family Cirratulidae. It occurs in the littoral and sub-littoral zones of the Atlantic Ocean.

<i>Lanice conchilega</i> species of marine worm

Lanice conchilega, commonly known as the sand mason worm, is a species of burrowing marine polychaete worm. It builds a characteristic tube which projects from the seabed, consisting of cemented sand grains and shell fragments with a fringe at the top.

Abarenicola pacifica or the Pacific lugworm is a large species of polychaete worm found on the west coast of North America and also in Japan. The worms live out of sight in burrows under the sand and produce casts which are visible on the surface.

Oweniidae family of annelids

Oweniidae is a family of marine polychaete worms in the suborder Sabellida. The worms live in tubes made of sand and are selective filter feeders, detritivores and grazers.

<i>Eudistylia polymorpha</i> species of annelid

Eudistylia polymorpha, the giant feather duster worm, is a species of marine polychaete worm belonging to the family Sabellidae. Its common name is from the crown of tentacles extended when the animal is under water.

Onuphidae family of annelids

The Onuphidae are a family of polychaete worms.

<i>Polydora ciliata</i> species of annelid

Polydora ciliata is a species of annelid worm in the family Spionidae, commonly known as a bristleworm. It is a burrowing worm and is found in the northeastern Atlantic Ocean and some other parts of the world.

Phyllochaetopterus prolifica is a species of marine polychaete worms that live in a tube that it constructs. It is native to shallow waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean and forms colonies of tubes on rocks and submerged objects.

<i>Poecilochaetus serpens</i>

Poecilochaetus serpens is a species of marine polychaete worm in the family Poecilochaetidae. It is a benthic worm that burrows into soft sediment.


  1. 1 2 3 Encyclopedia of Life
  2. 1 2 Invasion of the parchment worm
  3. 1 2 3 Marine organisms database Archived June 10, 2008, at the Wayback Machine .
  4. 1 2 Marine Life Information Network
  5. Fauchald, K & PA Jumars. 1979. The diet of worms: a study of the polychaete feeding guilds. Oceanogr. Mar. Biol. Annu. Rev. 17: 193-284.
  6. Gray, IE. 1961. Changes in abundance of the commensal crabs of Chaetopterus. Biol. Bull. 120: 353-359.
  7. Ruppert, EE & RD Barnes. 1994. Invertebrate Zoology, 6th Edition. Saunders College Publishing. Orlando, FL. 1056 pp.
  8. Martin, N & M Anctil. 1984. Luminescence control in the tube-worm Chaetopterus variopedatus: role of nerve cord and photogenic gland. Biol. Bull. 166: 583-593.