A Polychaete Primer

by Judy Herwitz, Jack Kaufmann, Tom Poulson, John Willis

Being an Analytical Key to the Families of Polychaete Worms
Examined by the Authors at Woods Hole during the Summer of 1957

If you meet a worm with a true coelom
And a body divided in rings,
Then pick him up and take him home
and apply the following things.

(The only worm too firm to squirm
is Aphrodite in her fuzzy nighty.
- Aphroditidae)

1 a. One criterion that never fails  
    Is the Polynoidaens' dorsal scales - Polynoidae
  b. If there are none of these we're not yet through  
    Please go on to couplet two -2
2 a. If tentacles feathery hide his face  
    You're nearing the end of this hectic chase -3
  b. If his face is not a feather duster  
    We have yet another cluster -4
3 a. If he lives in a tube calcine  
    You've arrived at the final line - Serpulidae
  b. But if his tube is soft or sandy  
    Then he's a Sabellid fine and dandy - Sabellidae
4 a. An ice-cream cone of grains of sand  
    Is Pectinaria's - Pectinariidae
  b. But if such a cone is not his dwelling  
    What he is we're not yet telling -5
5 a. Thread-like tentacles (see place 3)?  
    On to couplet six with thee -6
  b. If not as above  
    Still onward shove -7
6 a. Tentacles all on segment one  
    Entangling food that's on the run - Terebellidae
  b. Tentacles spread on the body - instead  
    of being restricted just to the head - Cirratulidae
7 a. Head and prostomium apparently bare  
    Don't raise your hopes - we're still not here -8
  b. If head appendages can be seen  
    Then skip along to line fourteen -14
8 a. With thickened nodes and segments long  
    "The Bamboo Worm" cannot be wrong - Maldanidae
  b. If these criteria don't satisfy  
    Then let's continue to classify. -9
9 a. A monstrous slug of greenish black  
    Arenicola - throw him back! - Arencolidae
  b. Of worms of a somewhat brighter hue  
    We have, my friends, not just a few -10
10 a. With feet and gills not easily seen  
    And a body thin and long  
    He sports an iridescent sheen  
    And to this family doth belong - Lumbrinereidae
  b. If not as described in above quatrain  
    Look down below and try again -11
11 a. With parapods of equal size  
    Each body segment he supplies -12
  b. From segment to segment, the parapods vary  
    Larger or smaller, or lacking, or hairy -13
12 a. A long cylindrical slender shaft,  
    Glycera's pointed fore and aft - Glyceridae
  b. Short and fat with hind end stubby  
    This worm's aspect's rather grubby - Opheliidae
  c. Nephtys shimmies as she goes  
    With flattened body and squared-off nose - Nephtyidae
13 a. The Capitellids' gills are small  
    It's hard to tell they're there at all - Capitellidae
  b. Over the back his well-formed gills  
    Present an arch of scarlet frills - Orbiniidae
14 a. "Omnis animalia in tres partes divisa est"  
    Separates Chaetopterus from all the rest - Chaetopteridae
  b. Those below are all provided  
    With bodies that are undivided -15
15 a. Ram's horns on his head he bears,  
    Metallic grey or green he wears - Spionidae
  b. If no ram's horns, look down below  
    There's still a little way to go -16
16 a. The width is 5 mm or more  
    In these worms of substantial bore -17
  b. Less than 1 mm is lean -  
    You'll find these filed in space nineteen -19
17 a. A pair of jointed palps he bears,  
    This errant sans domestic cares - Nereidae
  b. These worms are always found at home  
    In tubes from which they never roam -18
18 a. Seven tentacles on the front of his trunk  
    He lives in a tube encrusted with junk - Onuphidae
  b. Five prostomial tentacles mark him  
    Count them - you'll know him  
    whenever you ark him - Eunicidae
19 a. Paddle-like cirri are plain to see  
    On the sides of the Phyllodocidae - Phyllodocidae
  b. If he has short and rod-like cirri  
    Ended is this task so dreary - Syllidae
    If you've still not found the proper name . . . .
Publish fast and win your fame!
    Meet the authors:
    Judy Herwitz is a daisy -
Keeps our group from looking lazy.
Impressing all the invert staff
With Warburg tubes and kymograph.
    Thomas Poulson is no shirker
He's a real compulsive worker
Labors far into the night
Drawings pictures left and right.
    Described in learned words exotic,
Willis' scheme is symbiotic.
Put in plain and simple terms
He trades his charms for notes on worms.
    Last and least we finally come
to Kaufmann (what a lazy bum!)
One wonders what he can achieve -
Being last to come and first to leave.

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(posted May 1, 2005)