A body divided into segments;
this may or may not be visible externally
The body cavity is a series of
schizocoels often divided by transverse septa
The outer epithelium covered
by cuticle with chaetae in most
Outer circular and inner longitudinal
A closed blood
Respiratory gas exchange through skin, gills, parapodia.
Sensory systems - touch, taste eyes (in some), photoreceptor cells, statocysts (in some).
The Annelids are the segmented
worms; there are about 15 000 species worldwide.
The body is divided into segments marked
externally by circular grooves or annuli or septa. Latin: annulus = ring
In most segments there is an
arrangement of organs and systems; this serial repetition is termed metamerism, and is also found in the Arthropods, and to a certain extent
in the Vertebrates.
Each segment can serve as a hydrostatic skeleton (see earthworms for more detail),
and this increases the efficiency of motion, especially burrowing. Segments are added as the worm grows and matures. The oldest segments are at the head end, and the youngest at the tail end.
(except the leeches) have chitinous bristles called chaetae or
setae; these can serve as anchors when burrowing, which is why it is so difficult to pull a worm out of its burrow.
The Annelids are subdivided into
three Classes, Polychaeta (below), Oligochaeta and Hirudinea. It
is thought that the Hirudinea diverged from the Oligochaeta.
The Polychaetes are mainly
marine and take their name from the numerous chaetae/setae (bristles or hairs) they bear on paddle-like extensions from the body wall called parapodia (see the drawing of Nereis virens below). There are over 10 000 species ranging in size from 1 mm - 3 m. In some mud flats 1 square metre of mud can contain thousands of individuals. Common names are lugworm, blood worm, ragworm and tubeworm.
chaetae are arranged in paired groups on each parapodia. These are
paired appendages, one on either side of almost every segment, they are the fluffy-looking bits on the lugwom Arenicola marina above right and Neanthes virens, below. Parapodia are used in
locomotion and respiration.
There are a variety of body shapes. Some are
sedentary tube or burrow dwelling particle, detritus or plankton feeders using ciliated tentacles to intercept food, others
may lead a free-moving life and are usually predatory and have an eversible pharynx with strong jaws and teeth, see Neris virens below left. Usually they have a well-defined head and no clitellum (see Oligochaetes).
Arenicola sp. (right) are often dug up for bait by fishermen who find them by searching for worm casts on the surface. The worm comes to the surface and defecates every 40 minutes or so, then returns to its mucous-lined burrow.
In the image left you can see the worm's head is located towards the "blind" end of its burrow. It continually eats the sand in front of it, and this action forms a small depression on the surface.
When the tide is in small prey items and detritus fall into this depression and steadily move towards the worm's mouth. Any organic matter between or on the sand grains is digested and the waste grains secreted on to the surface.
Neanthes virens, king ragworm, sandworm, clamworm, king rag
Neanthes virens, left and below is also known as the king ragworm, sandworm, and clamworm. It is omnivorous and hunts for food in the sand and can grow up to 90 cm long. When fully grown it will have more than 200 segments. It is found in the North Atlantic and is sometimes harvested for fish bait.
Sabella sp. left, commonly known as fan worms, secrete a parchment-like tube made of sand grains mixed with mucus. The fan can be contracted and drawn into the tube with great rapidity for protection. Sometimes a shadow or vibration is all that is required to cause the worm to withdraw its fan.
Cilia on the radioles direct small food particles down the grooved radiole to the mouth. Sand grains are also directed towards the mouth.
Grains of a suitable size are passed into storage sacs until they are needed for tube building. The walls of the storage sacs produce the mucus which is mixed with the grains of sand used in building the tube. This mixture is extruded in a slimy rope to add to the top of the tube.