A cheat's guide to polychaetes

Become an armchair expert with these key facts about polychaetes.

Polychaete Bispira manicata

Polychaete Bispira manicata
Photographer: Gary Cranitch © Gary Cranitch

Polychaetes are multi-segmented annelids (worms) with parapodia (small leg-like structures) for locomotion and often with tentacles for feeding or branchial radioles for feeding and breathing.

The name ‘polychaete’ is derived from the Greek meaning ‘having much hair’ (referring to the chaetae or bristles found on many species).

Polychaetes are:

  • pronounced ‘polly-keets’ 
  • the most common benthic (bottom-dwelling) marine animals (both species and individuals)
  • mostly less than 10 centimetres long, but some species can reach 3 metres 
  • found in estuaries, inshore waters, the open sea and the deep ocean.

First published in Explore magazine, July 2013

Brendan Atkins , Publications Coordinator
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