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Crustaceans are animals that have:
- a segmented body with a hardened shell
- seven or more pairs of appendages for feeding, moving and reproduction
- limbs which generally have two branches
- two pairs of antennae
- gills for breathing
Polychaetes are animals that typically have:
- a long, basically cylindrical body
- a body segmented both internally and externally
- a pair of leg-like appendages (not jointed) attached to every body segment
The Australian Museum Marine Invertebrate collection contains over 511,000 specimen samples, or lots, of which approximately 46% are digitised. This includes in excess of 13,000 type samples, of which more than 4,400 represent primary type specimens.
The collection, housed both at the main Sydney CBD museum site and the Castle Hill Discovery Centre, represents one of the oldest, largest, most diverse and well-studied holdings of Australasian and Indo-Pacific invertebrate taxa with predominantly marine representatives. Over twenty major groups of invertebrates are included with notable exceptions being molluscs, insects and spiders. Freshwater and terrestrial representatives are curated as well as the marine taxa.
Taxonomic coverage extends to Annelida, Bryozoa, Cnidaria, Ctenophora, Crustacea, Echinodermata, Nematoda, Nemertea, Platyhelminthes, Porifera, Pycnogonida, Tunicata, and various other phyla including protozoans. Particular strengths are the number and diversity of samples for the Annelida (especially Polychaeta), Crustacea and Echinodermata.
The collection has a focus on material from Australia, particularly New South Wales, but has strong holdings for the Indo-Pacific region across most taxa as well as some important samples from other international locations.
What is now recognised as the marine invertebrate collection was established in 1883 with the appointment of Thomas Whitelegge as the first curator. Registers of material held were begun by him in 1888 and continue to the present day. Whitelegge worked on a range of taxa considerably enhancing the collection. Subsequent curators, collection managers and research staff of the museum, as well as associates, collaborators, colleagues, donors and volunteers have added greatly to this.
Notable leading staff contributors specialising in various taxa though time include R. Bretnall (Bryozoa), F. McNeill (Crustacea, particularly Decapoda), E. Pope (Annelida, Crustacea and Echinodermata), J. Yaldwyn (Crustacea, particularly Decapoda), D. Griffin (Crustacea, particularly Decapoda), P. Hutchings (Polychaeta), F. Rowe (Echinodermata), J. Lowry (Crustacea, particularly Amphipoda), P. Berents (Crustacea, particularly Amphipoda), G. Wilson (Crustacea, particularly Isopoda), S. Ahyong (Crustacea, particularly Decapoda and Stomatopoda) and E. Kupriyanova (Polychaeta).