Tag Archives: polychaeta

Student visits – Ellisiv and Maria

A guest post from two of our MSc students (in this case co-supervised with NTNU) who were here on a research visit for three weeks in January 2024. 

We are Maria Buhaug Grankvist and Ellisiv Tomasgard Raftevold, and for the past three weeks we have been visiting the University Museum in Bergen to work on our master’s projects. It’s been a lot of fun, a lot of hard work and very useful, as the Bergen University Museum really is the place to be when you’re working with marine invertebrates.

Both our theses focus on marine invertebrates, but two different phyla. Maria is working with cyclostomatid Bryozoans, while Ellisiv looks at Polychaetes. We write our masters for the NTNU University Museum in Trondheim in collaboration with the University Museum in Bergen and the projects “Digitization of Norwegian Bryozoa” (NorDigBryo) and “Marine Annelid Diversity in Arctic Norway” (ManDAriN). Keep reading, and you will learn about our projects and what we recommend to do when visiting Bergen!

Ellisiv’s marine annelids:
I’m Ellisiv and in my master’s thesis, I study a marine Annelid or Polychaete genus called Flabelligera within the family Flabelligeridae. Flabelligerids are mostly benthic and can be found from the intertidal zone down to the deep sea. They like living in the sand or mud, or under rocks, and they can be quite small and have sediment camouflage or a completely transparent body and outer sheath and may therefore be quite hard to find. If you do find them they are quite cool to look at, and if they are transparent, you can see their internal organs and green circulatory system. Their most prominent character is the cephalic cage, which is a circle of bristles around their mouths forming a kind of cage. In the ecosystem, these animals have an important role in that they for example eat the marine snow that falls to the bottom of the oceans so that it can be recycled back into the food chain.

Flabelligera affinis, a species within this genus was until recently thought to be only one species and was thought to have a worldwide distribution. This, however, was shown not to be true when Salazar-Vallejo 2012 restricted F. affinis to arctic areas and reinstated F. vaginifera which was previously synonymized with F. affinis, and proved that it was at least two different species sorted into one. Also looking at the material we have in the museum collections and DNA samples it was suspected that there are multiple different species sorted into F. affinis.

This is the problem I am trying to solve in my master’s thesis, and to do this I need to study the specimens found in the museum collections that are sorted to F. affinis and look at their different morphological characters and sort them into groups. This is mostly what I have done in Bergen. However, these species are very similar, and sequencing their DNA to look at their relatedness is a very useful addition to the morphology. Hopefully, I can get a step closer to solving this taxonomic confusion in my master’s and we can get to know how many species are hiding within Flabelligera.

Maria and the bryozoans:
I’m Maria, and for my master thesis I’m recording the diversity of bryozoan species within the order Cyclostomatida in Norwegian waters (meaning off the coast of Norway, the arctic ocean and some nearby areas). In addition to creating a checklist of recorded species, I’m mapping out their geographic and bathymetric distribution. In short, I’m trying to provide an answer to the question: What species of Cyclostomatida do we have, and where do they live?

There are two main reasons for studying this particular phylum in my thesis. First, they are strongly understudied, and according to a report published by the Norwegian Taxonomy Initiative in 2021, our understanding of bryozoan distribution and ecology is weak and unsatisfactory, even with “essential knowledge gaps” in some areas.
The second reason explains why it’s an issue that we know so little about these animals: They are majorly important for many marine ecosystems! Nearly all bryozoans are colonial, so even though the zooids (term for an individual animal in a colony) is only 0,1 – 0,5 mm long, the colonies can be as much as half a meter tall or wide! Many of the colonies have intricate shapes supported by heavily calcified structural zooids, providing habitats for a wide range of other animals. In this way, the bryozoans promote biodiversity in much the same way corals do, but they are far less known and barely protected by law like their coral counterparts.

To protect these beautiful colonial creatures we first of all need to know them better. Mapping the actual diversity and distribution of Norwegian bryozoans is far too large a task for a two year master thesis, but my thesis will hopefully contribute to the final results of the NorDigBryo project.

DNA sequencing
For both our theses we use an integrative approach, combining the morphology (what we see/the physical traits of the animals) with genetic sequence data. DNA sequencing is one of the things we got to do in Bergen, and it was very interesting to see how this is done from start to finish. We got to extract the DNA, use PCR and specific primers to amplify the DNA string of interest and gel electrophoresis to test if the prior methods worked.

For the successful sequences, we got to try the Sanger sequencing method, and it is very exciting to get to use some of our own sequences in our theses.

When in Bergen:
You’d might think that when we finish long days at the university museum, looking at marine invertebrates from dusk till dawn, we would go and do something completely different when the weekend comes. You’d be wrong!
In our spare time in Bergen, we went to see the University Museum of Natural History and were there almost from when it opened until it closed because there were so many interesting exhibitions. There are so many beautiful creatures on the planet, many of them and the story of how they evolved, you can learn about at the museum. We of course especially loved the “deep sea-room” where we would sit for a long time while watching a cephalopod swimming around deep sea sulfur vents..soothing.

More about the projects:
Marine Annelid Diversity in Arctic Norway (ManDAriN) home page (UiB)
ManDAriN presented at Artsdatabanken

Digitization of Norwegian Bryozoa (NorDigBryo) home page (UiO)
NorDigBryo presented at Artsdatabanken
NorDigBryo is also on Instagram – give us a follow!

-Ellisiv & Maria

It was our pleasure hosting these two enthusiastic guests, and we wish them luck in the thesis work – stay tuned for updates! 

PS: Interested in a marine master thesis at the University Museum of Bergen? Check out the blog detailing potential projects, or get in touch with the staff listed!

Marie Curie project results

The results of a Marie Skłodowska-Curie project PRODEEP that has been done by Nataliya Budaeva and Endre Willassen at the Department of Natural History were published as a popular science article online: https://cordis.europa.eu/result/rcn/220363_en.html.

Choose one of six languages to learn more about how marine bristle worms colonize the deep ocean!

Budaeva N., Schepetov D., Zanol J., Neretina T., Willassen E. 2016. When molecules support morphology: Phylogenetic reconstruction of the family Onuphidae (Eunicida, Annelida) based on 16S rDNA and 18S rDNA. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 94(B): 791–801.   http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ympev.2015.10.011

High(er) species diversity of Glyceriformia

goniadidae figHappy WormWednesday*!

One of our contributions at the International Polychaete Conference in Cardiff was a poster that dealt with how a combination of careful morphological examinations using the available literature and DNA barcoding of polychaetes in the families Glyceridae and Goniadidae from the West coast of Africa is indicating a much higher diversity than we can assign names to at the moment.

Head on over to our MIWA (Marine Invertebrates of Western Africa) blog to see the poster and learn more!

*that is an actual hashtag on Twitter – check it out!

A week of worms in Wales!

Does that not sound appealing?
It was actually a lovely event!

The IPC2016 logo © National Museum Wales

The IPC2016 logo © National Museum Wales

The 12th International Polychaete Conference took place in Cardiff, Wales during the first week of August. These events have been taking place every third year since 1981, and the previous one was in Sydney, Australia in 2013.



Polychaetologists assembled on the steps of the National Museum Cardiff (c) IPC2016

Polychaetologists anno 2016 assembled on the steps of the National Museum Cardiff © National Museum Wales

During an intensive week of presentations and posters spanning topics within Systematics, Phylogeny, Ecology, Methodologies, Biodiversity, Biodiversity and Ecology, Morphology, Reproduction & Larval Ecology, Development, and Polychaete studies, people had the chance to showcase their work, and learn more about what others are working on. The local organising committee invited us to “Have a happy conference, re-connecting with those already known, meeting correspondents for the first time, ans making new connections and new friends” – and I think we can safely say that the mission was accomplished!

Cardiff – and the National Museum Wales – was an excellent venue for “polychaetologists” from all over the globe.

Snapshots of Cardiff

Snapshots of Cardiff (photos: K.Kongshavn)

In all we were 190 attendees from about 30 countries present – including a sizeable Norwegian group! Some of us (below) gave talks, and most were also involved in posters. Results and material from large projects and surveys such as PolyNor (Polychaete diversity in Nordic Seas), MAREANO (Marine AREA database for NOrwegian waters),  NorBOL (The Norwegian Barcode of Life), and MIWA (Marine Invertebrates of West Africa) were all well incorporated in the Norwegian contributions.

There were in fact a lot of contributions involving one or more collaborators from a Norwegian institution (UM, NTNU, NIVA, The SARS center, NHM Oslo, Akvaplan-NIVA ++) being presented during the conference. It is really nice to see that the community is growing through recruitment of both students and international researchers.

Norwegian delegates lining up in the City Hall before the start of the banquet

Norwegian delegates lining up in the City Hall before the start of the banquet

As Torkild said in his excellent blog post (in Norwegian, translation by me):

Pins marking where participants come from - this was not quite completed when the photo was taken, but none the less - we beat Sweden!

Pins marking where participants come from – this was not quite completed when the photo was taken, but none the less..well represented!

With so many active participants in the field, a lot of exciting research is being carried out in Norway. Not only do we have many projects – large and small – running at our institutions involving our “regular” Norwegian collaborators; there is also a significant proportion of international participation in these projects.

Furthermore, our activities enable researchers from all over the world to visit or loan from our scientific collections, and study the substantial (new) material that the projects are generating. It is nice to see that our efforts are being recognized in the international community! The recent flurry of activities has been well aided by the Norwegian Species Initiative (Artsprosjektet) (and the MIWA-project at UM).

The majority of our research is based on, or incorporates, museum material from our collections. The collections have been built over years, decades and even centuries, and continue to increase in scientific value as new science is added.

It is gratifying to see the material being used, and we hope it will gain even more attention in the aftermath of the conference.

From the poster session - these are some (!) of the posters we were involved in

From the poster session – these are some (!) of the posters we were involved in (photos: K.Kongshavn)

The University Museum was well represented, both in attendance, and in contributions. Below is a list of what we (co-)authored, presenting author is in bold, and University Museum people are in italics. We plan on posting some of the posters here, so stay tuned for that!


  • Giants vs pygmies: two strategies in the evolution of deep-sea quill worms (Onuphidae, Annelida)
    Nataliya Budaeva, Hannelore Paxton, Pedro Ribeiro, Pilar Haye, Dmitry Schepetov, Javier Sellanes, Endre Willassen
  • DNA barcoding contributing to new knowledge on diversity and distribution of Polychaeta (Annelida) in Norwegian and adjacent waters
    Torkild Bakken, Jon A. Kongsrud, Katrine Kongshavn, Eivind Oug, Tom Alvestad, Nataliya Budaeva, Arne Nygren, Endre Willassen
  • Diversity and phylogeny of Diopatra bristle worms (Onuphidae, Annelida) from West Africa
    Martin Hektoen, Nataliya Budaeva
  • Experiences after three years of automated DNA barcoding of Polychaeta
    Katrine Kongshavn, Jon Anders Kongsrud, Torkild Bakken, Tom Alvestad, Eivind Oug, Arne Nygren, Nataliya Budaeva, Endre Willassen


  • Diversity and species distributions of Glyceriformia in shelf areas off western Africa
    Lloyd Allotey, Akanbi Bamikole Williams, Jon Anders Kongsrud, Tom Alvestad, Katrine Kongshavn, Endre Willassen
  • Eclysippe Eliason, 1955 (Annelida, Ampharetidae) from the North Atlantic with the description of a new species from Norwegian waters
    Tom Alvestad, Jon Anders Kongsrud, Katrine Kongshavn
  • Phylogeny of Ampharetidae
    Mari Heggernes Eilertsen, Tom Alvestad, Hans Tore Rapp, Jon Anders Kongsrud
  • Ophelina (Polychaeta, Opheliidae) in Norwegian waters and adjacent areas – taxonomy, identification and species distributions
    Jon Anders Kongsrud, Eivind Oug, Torkild Bakken, Arne Nygren, Katrine Kongshavn
  • Pista Malmgren, 1866 (Terebellidae) from Norway and adjacent areas
    Mario H. Londoño-Mesa, Arne Nygren, Jon Anders Kongsrud
  • Lumbrineridae (Annelida, Polychaeta) from Norwegian and adjacent waters with the description of a new deep-water species of Abyssoninoe
    Eivind Oug, Katrine Kongshavn, Jon Anders Kongsrud
  • Nephtyidae (Polychaeta, Phyllodocida) of West African shelf areas
    Ascensão Ravara, Jon Anders Kongsrud, Tom Alvestad
  • Phylogeny of the family Maldanidae based on molecular data
    Morten Stokkan, Jon Anders Kongsrud, Endre Willassen

We had a mid-week excursion where we got to see a bit more of our hosting country; namely the impressive Caerphilly Castle constructed in the 13th century and still looking magnificent today, and a lovely lunch at the Llanerch wineyard with time for informal mingling and catching up.


Caerphilly Castle (photo: K.Kongshavn)

Note the red dragon in the Castle wall; this is the dragon of the Welsh flag. The story goes something like this (according to Wikipedia, at least!): From the Historia Brittonum,[2] written around 830 a text describes a struggle between two serpents deep underground, which prevents King Vortigern from building a stronghold. This story was later adapted into a prophecy made by the wizard Myrddin (or Merlin) of a long fight between a red dragon and a white dragon. According to the prophecy, the white dragon, representing the Saxons, would at first dominate but eventually the red dragon, symbolising the Britons, would be victorious.

Being museum people (er..? People employed at a museum, I mean!) ourselves, we made sure to visit the exhibitions as well, and especially the new “Wriggle!” exhibition, which is all about..worms! Lots of fun, and a*a lot* of information packed in. Make sure to visit it, if you get the chance!

Visiting the "Wriggle!" exhibition during the Ice Breaker event

Visiting the “Wriggle!” exhibition during the Ice Breaker event

The attendants have also been busy on Twitter, visit @IPC2016 or check #IPC12Cardiff for loads of photos and on-the-spot-commentaries

Finally, we would like to extend our heartfelt thanks to the arranging committeeDIOLCH!

Cheers, Katrine

ps: Dw i’n hoffi mwydod!

Guest researchers: Mario

We started early with visitors for 2016; Mario arrived already on the 4th of January!

Mario, on his temporary spot in the lab, studying spaghetti worms.

Mario, on his temporary spot in the lab, studying spaghetti worms.


Mario’s home institution is the University of Antioquia, in Medellin, Colombia, and the contrast to snow covered (and/or rain swept) Bergen has been great; this was his first time having snow beneath his shoes.






Another of our polychaete collaborators, Arne Nygren from Sjöfartsmuseet Akvariet in Gothenburg (Artsprosjekt can be found here (NO)) seized the chance to visit as well, and together with the resident polychaetologists (Jon, Tom and Nataliya) it meant that we suddenly had an impromptu polychaete workshop on our hands 🙂

Being able to meet in person makes the work flow smoother all around, as work was delegated and plans concretized. 2016 is likely to be a year with much focus on the Polychaeta, as it is both the final year of the PolyNor project (ends in spring), and the year of the 12th International Polychaete Conference, which will be held in Cardiff, Wales.


During Mario’s month-long stay he was examining the collection of terebellids from West Africa and the museum’s collection of the bristle worm genus Pista, much of which will later be barcoded through NorBOL (for the Norwegian material) and MIWA (for our West African samples).

Pista cristata identified by Dr. T. Holthe, one of the most important experts on spaghetti worms, from University of Bergen. RCP. Photo: MHL

Pista cristata identified by Dr. T. Holthe, one of the most important experts on spaghetti worms, from University of Bergen. RCP. Photo: MHL

In his own words:

Eupolymnia nebulosa after one collecting trip to Lysefjord close to Bergen. Photo: MHL

Eupolymnia nebulosa after a collecting trip to Lysefjorden close to Bergen. Photo: MHL

I usually work on the morphology of just one of the several families of polychaetes, the Terebellidae, or spaghetti worms. This visit has been very important since we have been able to separate four Pista species from the North Sea, using both morphological and molecular tools. “The combination of these two different methods has been superb”.

Jon, Arne and I began this study during August 2014, but this undertaking seems like it will never end because we keep adding more material. The recent findings have been the significance of some characters that did not have taxonomical importance in the past. Now, they are the clues for splitting very close species.

But this is not enough; it was possible to identify 43 species of terebellids belonging to 16 different genera, from material collected along the West African coasts.

This is a high polychaete diversity in only one family. For example, we found three Lysilla species, in a region with only one recorded species. New species? Highly possible. One can only wonder what the diversity of the remaining families is?

Verticilate chaetae (bristles) from one of the polycirrinae species photographed through a microscope. Photo: MHL

Verticilate chaetae (bristles) from one of the polycirrinae species photographed through a microscope. Photo: MHL

Methyl-green staining pattern of one of Pista species. Photo: MHL

Methyl-green staining pattern of one of Pista species. Photo: MHL










All this was accompanied with a perfect view through the window, seeing it snow some days, or watching the Sun on the mountains in front; some times with white top mountains, some times with deep blue sky. A landscape like that never could be my company in my tropical city.

Snowy view from the lab window Photo: MHL

Snowy view from the lab window Photo: MHL

Thank you for visiting, it was very nice having you here – we wish you the best of luck with your next adventure in Antarctica!

Door #20: How many undescribed bristle worms live in Australian waters?

The answer is, of course, “we don’t know”. But we *can* say that Australian polychaete fauna is largely undescribed. As an example, 91 new species and 67 new records of polychaete worms were found in the vicinity of a single small island at Great Barrier Reef as a result of a joint effort of 16 polychaete experts that spent two weeks at the Lizard Island Research Station of the Australian Museum in 2013.

Not only the Great Barrier Reef polychaete fauna is poorly studied, various areas of Australian east coast apparently also have numerous undescribed species especially in the deeper waters. Here you can see few examples of recently described new species of bristle worms from Australian.

Rhamphobrachium nutrix Paxton & Budaeva, 2015 from the Lizard Island, 9-36 m

Rhamphobrachium nutrix Paxton & Budaeva, 2015 from the Lizard Island, 9-36 m

Paradiopatra piccola Paxton & Budaeva, 2013 from eastern Australia, 124-500 m

Paradiopatra piccola Paxton & Budaeva, 2013 from eastern Australia, 124-500 m

Undescribed species from the genus Onuphis from the Lizard Island, intertidal (Photo: A. Semenov)

Undescribed species from the genus Onuphis from the Lizard Island, intertidal (Photo: A. Semenov)

Anchinothria parvula Budaeva & Paxton 2013 from eastern Australia, 244 m

Anchinothria parvula Budaeva & Paxton 2013 from eastern Australia, 244 m

Neosabellides lizae from the intertidal

Neosabellides lizae from the intertidal (Alvestad T., Budaeva N. 2015)

Suggested reading:

Special Volume Zootaxa 4019 (Open Access) Coral reef-associated fauna of Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef: polychaetes and allies http://www.mapress.com/zootaxa/list/2015/4019(1).html

Alvestad T.Budaeva N. 2015. Neosabellides lizae, a new species of Ampharetidae (Annelida) from Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Zootaxa, 4019: 61–69.  http://dx.doi.org/10.11646/zootaxa.4019.1.6

Paxton H., Budaeva N. 2015. Minibrachium, a new subgenus of Rhamphobrachium (Annelida: Onuphidae) from Australia with the description of three new species. Zootaxa, 4019: 621–634. http://dx.doi.org/10.11646/zootaxa.4019.1.21

Budaeva N., Paxton. H. 2013. Nothria and Anchinothria (Annelida: Onuphidae) from Eastern Australian waters with a discussion of ontogenetic variation of diagnostic characters. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the UK, 93: 1481–1502.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0025315412001956

Paxton H., Budaeva N. 2013. Paradiopatra (Annelida: Onuphidae) from eastern Australian waters, with the description of six new species. Zootaxa, 3686: 140–164.  http://dx.doi.org/10.11646/zootaxa.3686.2.2

Nataliya Budaeva’s web page: http://nataliyabudaeva.wix.com/nataliyabudaeva


Door #16: First molecular-based phylogeny of onuphid bristle worms

Onuphidae are marine bristle worms with very rich external morphology and outstanding diversity of life styles within a single polychaete family. Onuphids can be very abundant in some marine biotopes, modifying the environment by their complex ornamented tubes and influencing the structure of benthic communities. They are very widely spread in the ocean inhabiting various biotopes from the intertidal zone down to hadal depths. Onuphids are widely harvested as bait sustaining local fisheries in southeastern Australia, Mediterranean and Portuguese coasts and are even commercially farmed with the full reproductive cycle from fertilization till fully-grown worms (up to 30 cm in length) in aquaculture facility.

Nothria otsuchiensis - a bristle worm from NSW, Australia (author N. Budaeva)

Nothria otsuchiensis – a bristle worm from NSW, Australia (author N. Budaeva)

The system of Onuphidae with 23 genera grouped into two subfamilies has been suggested by Hannelore Paxton (1986) and has been widely accepted since then. The first phylogeny based on the analysis of the combination of 16S rDNA and 18S rDNA genes has been recently published in Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. None of the subfamilies or tested genera appeared to be para- or polyphyletic showing a strong congruence between the traditional morphology-based systematics of the family and the newly obtained molecular-based phylogenetic reconstruction. However the previously suggested hypotheses on intrageneraic relationships within onuphidae were largely rejected.

Phylogenetic tree of a bristle worm family Onuphidae (Budaeva et al., 2016)

Phylogenetic tree of a bristle worm family Onuphidae (Budaeva et al., 2016)

Suggested reading:

Budaeva N., Schepetov D., Zanol J., Neretina T., Willassen E. 2016. When molecules support morphology: Phylogenetic reconstruction of the family Onuphidae (Eunicida, Annelida) based on 16S rDNA and 18S rDNA. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 94(B): 791–801. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ympev.2015.10.011

Paxton, H., 1986. Generic revision and relationships of the family Onuphidae (Annelida: Polychaeta). Records of the Australian Museum 38, 1–74. http://australianmuseum.net.au/uploads/journals/17658/175_complete.pdf

Aquabait Marine Worm Aquaculture: http://www.aquabait.com.au/about_aquabait_marine_worm_aquaculture.phtml

Nataliya Budaeva’s web page: http://nataliyabudaeva.wix.com/nataliyabudaeva


Door #5: A (so far) undescribed species of bristle worm

Diopatra sp

Diopatra sp. Photo: M. Hektoen

Pictured above is a cute polychaete (bristle worm) from the genus Diopatra. It was collected in Mauritania, and has been photographed using Scanning Electon Microscopy (SEM). Although I ended up describing 9 new species of Diopatra worms in my master’s thesis, many worms were still left undescribed, this is one of those.


The 1st International Polychaete Day!

Mystides sp Arne Nygren CC-BY-SA

Mystides sp Photo: Arne Nygren CC-BY-SA

Nereiphylla lutea Photo: Arne Nygren CC-BY-SA

Nereiphylla lutea Photo: Arne Nygren CC-BY-SA

Welcome to our contribution to the very first International Polychaete Day!

Today, we want to share information and photographs of these amazing creatures that usually reside in the deep blue, and who therefore haven’t gotten the public attention that they deserve (until now!). The event will take place world wide, starting at the Australian Museum in Sydney and move through the time zones where it will be celebrated in Russia, Norway, the UK, and in the USA – amongst others!

Dorvillea rubrovittata Photo: Arne Nygren CC-BY-SA-NC

Dorvillea rubrovittata Photo: Arne Nygren CC-BY-SA-NC

Kristian Fauchald

The celebration has been initiated as a way to commemorate Kristian Fauchald, a key figure in the polychaetologist community for many years.

Kristian Fauchald

Kristian Fauchald (1935-2015). Top and bottom right photos from the International Polychaete School held at the White Sea Biological Station of The Moscow State University in 2011, © A. Semenov. Bottom left: from Kristian’s public lecture in Moscow in 2011 © Dynasty Foundation

"The Pink Book", more properly known as Fauchald, K. 1977. The polychaete worms, definitions and keys to the orders, families and genera. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County: Los Angeles, CA (USA) Science Series 28:1-188, available online at http://www.vliz.be/imisdocs/publications/123110.pdf

“The Pink Book”, Fauchald 1977

Amongst many other achievements, he was the author of the famous “pink book”, which has served as an introduction to the world of polychaete taxonomy for many of us.

Kristian was born in Norway in 1935, and studied biology at the University of Bergen until beginning his doctorate work in California in 1965. An obituary by Fredrik Pleijel and Greg Rouse can be found at the World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS), which he was a founding editor of:
Obituary – Kristian Fauchald

He had a big, hearty laugh, a even bigger heart and a keen interest in the world around him – and he will be sorely missed.

Today, the 1st of July 2015, would have been Kristian’s 80th birthday, so it seems an appropriate day to blitz the public with an appreciation for the amazing animals that Kristian loved so much.

IMG_0044_1_red © UiB

                                                                      The Annelida

The Phylum Annelida, the “ringed worms”, includes two classes, the Polychaetae and Clitellata (Subclasses Oligochaeta and Hirundinea). Annelids typically have a slender cylindrical body (with a head in one end and an anus in the other), and externally visible annulations along the body – think of an ordinary earth worm (who belong in the Oligochaeta), and you have a typical annelid! The polychaetes are extremely common in the marine environment, from coastal areas to the deepest areas of the world oceans. These days, scientist are working on unravelling the family tree of the Annelida, if you are interested you can start reading about the phylogeny of annelid evolution here (Struck et al 2011).


The Polychaeta (Gr. Polys = many, Lat. chaeta = bristle), or bristle worms, often have – as the name suggests – conspicuous chaeta or bristles along their body. The bristles are found on parapods; locomotory structures typically found on each side of the body segments. They can be simple, hairlike structures, or they can be much more complex – as pictured below.

Details related to the types of bristles provide in many cases important taxonomical characters, and identification of species often requires observation of bristles in a regular microscope. Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) is used to examine the finest details of the bristles when we are working on describing species – the photos below are taken using SEM.

Ampharete undecima. One of the tools used when describing a new species is the electron microscope, which allows us to take very detailed photographs of the animals. Photo: K. Kongshavn

Ampharete undecima. One of the tools used when describing a new species is the electron microscope, which allows us to take very detailed photographs of the animals. Photo: K. Kongshavn

There are more than 12 000 described species of polychaetes, and the vast majority of these are marine.

They live from the intertidal to the abyssal (all the way to the bottom  of the Mariana trench, at approximately 10.970 meters depth! More here)

Polychaetes come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, from “Barry the giant sea worm” at 1.2 m (!) to minute species like Ampharete undecima, the new species we described last year which is up to 5 mm in length. They range from fast, predatory hunters to burrowers and tube-dwellers.

The Australian Museum in Sydney – which hosted the previous International Polychaete Conference – har written a nice introduction to the polychaetes on their web page, you will find it here

Group photo of the assembled polychaetologists in Sydney in 2013 (photo  © the IPC 2013 crew)

Group photo of the assembled polychaetologists in Sydney in 2013, Kristian is sitting next to the left column (photo © the IPC 2013 crew)

Amblyosyllis Arne Nygren CC-BY-SA-NC

Amblyosyllis Arne Nygren CC-BY-SA-NC

There are about 700 described species of polychaetes occurring in Norwegian waters – and the number is steadily increasing, as new species are being described every year, together with new occurrences for known species. Cryptic species – two or more morphologically similar species that erroneously have been classified as one – are also abundant in polychaetes, raising the species count even further.



There is a substantial amount of ongoing research taking place, and at the University Museum the focus is on polychaete taxonomy:
ActionbilderOur scientific collections  are of course of vital importance as a source of material and data dating back all the way to  “Den Norske Nordhavs-expedition, 1876-1878” (book 1 can be found here) and the 1910 Michael Sars Expedition (“The depths of the ocean : a general account of the modern science of oceanography based largely on the scientific researches of the Norwegian steamer Michael Sars in the North Atlantic“). For an account of some of the earliest collections and taxonomic works on the Norwegian polychaete fauna and how it ties in with present work, see Oug et al 2014.

However, there is always a need for new material, and we do a fair bit of collecting ourselves, especially in the Bergen area. Above are some action shots of us collecting in the local fjords.

We are currently in the final year of the 3-year project “Polychaete diversity in the Nordic Seas – from coast to abyssal”, affectionately nicknamed PolyNor. You can find information about PolyNor workshops and work taking place at the University Museum by clicking here. This project is financed by the Norwegian Biodiversity Information Centre, and relies heavily on fresh material collected by the MAREANO-project (Marine AREAl database for NOrwegian waters).

norbol logoThrough the Norwegian Barcode of Life (NorBOL) project, we are working on building a comprehensive library of genetic barcodes: short, species specific DNA sequences. Polychaetes are a focus group here, and so far we have submitted 1900 samples collected in Norwegian waters. Unfortunately, polychaetes are tricky costumers when it comes to genetic barcoding, and we are working on increasing the success rate. So far we have barcodes on about 70% of the species we have submitted, but as only 40% of the samples result in barcodes, a significant proportion of the diversity is still missing. We have also barcoded quite a lot of African polychaetes through our MIWA-project (Marine Invertebrates of Western Africa). Below are two maps with pins showing the localities that we have submitted polychaetes from for barcoding in the BOLD database.

Efforts are ongoing on the taxonomy of both Norwegian and West African polychaetes – we can for certain say that “more research is needed!” on the topic.

Location of polychaete samples submitted from UM to BOLD

Location of polychaete samples submitted from UM to BOLD

The University Museum also participates in the education of polychaetologists for the future: One of our students defended his Master of Science on taxonomy of the genus Diopatra in the family Onuphidae last Friday, you can read more about that here.

To sum up, polychaetes – bristle worms – are fascinating animals that have adapted to a wide variety of habitats and modes of life. They are incredibly diverse, are important parts of the marine food webs, they help turn over sediments (like earth worms do on land), they can build reefs with their tubes, and they even have their own International Day!

Melinna sp photo K Kongshavn ©UiB

Melinna sp photo K Kongshavn ©UiB

Below you will find a slideshow featuring some of the amazing polychaete diversity, we hope you will enjoy it!


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Selected references:

Alvestad, T., Kongsrud, J.A., Kongshavn K. (2014) Ampharete undecima, a new deep-sea ampharetid (Annelida, Polychaeta) from the Norwegian Sea  Memoirs of Museum Victoria 71 :11-19 (2014) Open access

Fauchald, K. 1977. The polychaete worms, definitions and keys to the orders, families and genera. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County: Los Angeles, CA (USA) Science Series 28:1-188 Available online at http://www.vliz.be/imisdocs/publications/123110.pdf (this is “the pink book”!)

Oug E, Bakken T, Kongsrud JA. 2014. Original specimens and type localities of early described polychaete species (Annelida) from Norway, with particular attention to species described by O.F. Müller and M. Sars. Memoirs of Museum Victoria 71: 217-236. Open Access.


Thank you to Nataliya Budaeva for supplying photos of Kristian, and to Arne Nygren and Fredrik Pleijel for polychaete photos!