[Annelida] Tubes, egg cases, and other structures made by annelids

Sarah Berke via annelida%40net.bio.net (by skberke from gmail.com)
Sun Nov 30 12:35:28 EST 2008

Hi Charley,

Your field guide sounds very useful, best of luck with it.  You are
correct that photo #3 is Diopatra cuprea.  Similar tubes are built by
Diopatra ornata and Diopatra splendidissima on the Pacific coast, but
both occur subtidallly or in the very low intertidal.  In Florida,
Americonuphis magna builds similar tubes, and occurs in the same
places as D. cuprea.  Adult A. magna tubes are much tougher than D.
cuprea tubes--D. cuprea can be torn easily while A. magna cannot--but
juvenile A. magna tubes are hard to distinguish from D. cuprea.  Some
terebellid polychaetes build vaguely similar tubes with attached
debris, but they tend to stick straight up rather than curving over.

I would guess that your picture #2 is a maldanid, but I won't swear to
it.  Oweenia is possiible, but their tubes tend to be darker.  They
also have a distinctive shingled-together look that can be seen with a
hand lens.  It does not look like Pectinaria; pectinaria build very
distinct cone-shaped, brittle tubes with the wide end buried and just
the narrow tip sticking out.

There are many many polychaete taxa that build tubes, and frankly lots
of them are rather nondescript little sandy things.  Spionids,
maldanids, capitellids, oweniids and onuphids are some examples--and
of course there are lots of crustaceans that build little sandy tubes
(i.e. amphipods and tanaids).  Characteristics such as how far the
tube sticks up, how rigid it is, and how tough it is can all help
narrow things down to the family level.  For example, both
Kinbergonuphis jenneri and many maldanid species build straight,
emergent, sandy tubes; they look very similar but if you pull on them
Kinbergonuphis tubes are stretchy while maldanid tubes break easily.
Your best bet is probably to take photos of tubes, make some notes
about their physical characteristics, then dig them up, pickle the
worms, and key them out.  Also note that many polychaetes can be
identified to family based on their feces, which frequently occur near
the tubes.

If you're interested in polychaetes with very distinictive tubes, you
might want to include Pista pacifica from the Northeast Pacific and
Lanice conchilega from the northern Atlanic.  Both are terebellids
that build tubes with elaborate fringed crowns that are used in
suspension feeding.

I don't know how far you want to run with this, but it would be cool
to have a field guide that really does justice to polychaete surface
traces.  If you haven't already, you should check out Ruppert and
Fox's Seashore Animals of the Southeast and Kozloff's Seashore life of
the Northern Pacific Coast.

I hope that was helpful.  Sadly, I have no expertise with earthworms
or freshwater annelids, so I cannot help you there.

Sarah K Berke
Postdoctoral Fellow
Smithsonian Environmental Research Center
PO Box 28
647 Contees Wharf Rd
Edgewater, MD 21037

On Sat, Nov 29, 2008 at 5:24 PM, Charley Eiseman <ceiseman from gmail.com> wrote:
> Hello all,
> I am working on a field guide to the 'tracks and signs' of North American
> invertebrates.  The bulk of it will be devoted to insects and spiders, but
> there will be scattered references to annelids, and I'm hoping some of you
> can help me make the coverage as complete and accurate as possible.
> One category of 'signs' is the tubes made by certain freshwater and marine
> worms.  I am interested in information on which taxa make these, and how
> exactly they go about constructing them.  I have collected photos of a few
> such tubes here: http://charleyeiseman.com/annelid.html and I'm hoping
> someone can tell me what they are (or might be).  There is also a question
> about earthworm burrows at the bottom of that page.
> The book will include photos of the egg cases of Eisenia foetida and an
> unidentified leech.  If anyone can provide information on variations in
> size, structure, and appearance among the egg cases of North American
> annelids, that would be very helpful.
> I will also be discussing earthworm castings and the midden piles of
> Lumbricus terrestris (I have photos of both), as well as the effects on
> forest soils of introduced earthworms in general.  I live in New England and
> I'm unclear on the importance of exotic earthworms south of the glaciated
> region, so comments on that would be helpful.
> I think that essentially covers the annelid signs I'm aware of at this
> point.  I would welcome any suggestions of other phenomena to consider, or
> contributions of any photographs that would augment the ones I've already
> mentioned.
> Thanks,
> Charley Eiseman
> ceiseman from gmail.com
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