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Orange thread-gilled worm at Pinnacle, near Gordon's Bay DSC02475.JPG
Cirriformia capensis (Cirratulidae)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Annelida
Class: Polychaeta
Subclass: Canalipalpata
Order: Terebellida

Several, see text

Terebellida make up an order of the Polychaeta class, commonly referred to as "bristle worms". Together with the Sabellida, the Spionida and some enigmatic families of unclear taxonomic relationship (e.g. the Saccocirridae), they make up the subclass Canalipalpata, one of the three main clades of polychaetes.[1] Like most polychaetes, almost all members of the Terebellida are marine organisms. Most are small, sessile detritivores (deposit feeders) which live in small tubes they build from mud or similar substrate, or burrow in the sand. Their central nervous system displays characteristic apomorphies.


Living tube of Lanice conchilega (Terebellidae) in the Wadden Sea at low tide.
Such structures can be preserved as fossils.

There is little consensus on the number of families. Some treatments accept as little as five,[2][3] while other authors list over a dozen. Here, the more inclusive view of the Terebellida is followed, based on a major review of polychaete systematics.[1] Cladistic studies have hitherto only analyzed a rather small proportion of polychaetes; hence it may be that some of the families today included in Terebellida by most authors will eventually be again recognized to belong elsewhere.

Notable species[edit]

A notable terebellid is the Pompeii worm (Alvinella pompejana), an alvinellid. It is the most heat-tolerant complex organism known on Earth. Found near hydrothermal vents deep in the Pacific Ocean, it thrives at a temperature of 50 °C (122 °F). This is near the theoretical limit for eukaryotes, whose mitochondria disintegrate at about 55 °C (131 °F).

Seven species of pelagic (free-swimming) terebellids have recently been discovered, including Swima in 2009[4][5][6] and Teuthidodrilus in 2010.[7][8][9][10][11] These seven species have been assigned to four new genera, forming a phylogenetic clade within the Acrocirridae family.[4][12]

Fossil record[edit]

Polychaetes lack a firm skeleton, so they do not fossilize well. For this reason, only a small number of prehistoric bristle worms have been described. Several of these have been placed in the Terebellida suborder, though often only tentatively so, owing to the ongoing uncertainties about polychaete phylogeny. However, as the terebellid habit of constructing characteristic tubes in which to live seems quite ancient, such structures are occasionally found in conservation Lagerstätten. Polychaete remains associated with such ichnofossils can therefore be quite certainly be allocated to the Terebellida.[citation needed] Prehistoric polychaete genera historically presumed to be Terebellida include the following, though most are now recognized as trace fossils of uncertain makers:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Rouse GW, Fauchald K (1998). "Recent views on the status, delineation, and classification of the Annelida" (PDF). American Zoologist. 38 (6): 953–64. doi:10.1093/icb/38.6.953. Retrieved 2010-11-25. 
  2. ^ Fauchald K (1977). "The polychaete worms, definitions and keys to the orders, families and genera". Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County Science Series. 28: 1–188. 
  3. ^ Holthe T (2001). "The Polychaeta Terebellida homepage". Retrieved 2010-11-25. 
  4. ^ a b Osborn KJ, Haddock SH, Pleijel F, Madin LP, Rouse GW (2009). "Deep-sea, swimming worms with luminescent "bombs" (subscription only)". Science. 325 (5943): 964. doi:10.1126/science.1172488. 
  5. ^ Moskowitz C (2009). "Sea creature releases glowing decoy 'bombs'". LiveScience. Retrieved 2010-11-25. 
  6. ^ International Institute for Species Exploration (2010). "Bombardier Worm". Top 10 New Species - 2010. Tempe, Arizona: Arizona State University. 
  7. ^ "Spindly species found in ocean's crushing depths". Yahoo! News. Agence France-Presse. 2010-11-24. Retrieved 2010-11-25. 
  8. ^ Cressey D (November 24, 2010). "The Great Beyond: Strange 'squidworm' showcases sea's secrets". Nature.com Blogs. Retrieved 2010-11-25. 
  9. ^ Sample I (November 23, 2010). "'Squid worm' emerges from the deep". The Guardian. Retrieved 2010-11-25. 
  10. ^ Watson T (2010). ""Flamboyant" New Squid Worm Surprises, Delights Experts". National Geographic Daily News. National Geographic Society. Retrieved 2010-11-25. 
  11. ^ Osborn KJ, Madin LP, Rouse GW (2010). "The remarkable squidworm is an example of discoveries that await in deep-pelagic habitats". Biology Letters. 7 (3): in press. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2010.0923. PMC 3097850free to read. PMID 21106571. 
  12. ^ Osborn KJ, Rouse GW (2010). "Phylogenetics of Acrocirridae and Flabelligeridae (subscription only)". Zoologica Scripta: in press. doi:10.1111/j.1463-6409.2010.00460.x. 

External links[edit]