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Bristle Worms

Bristle worms have tiny, hair-like bristles along each side. (Hans Hillewaert/Wikimedia Commons)
Bristle worms have tiny, hair-like bristles along each side. (Hans Hillewaert/Wikimedia Commons)

Bristle worms are soft, segmented worms found along shorelines, mud flats and shallow waters throughout the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers.

More than 110 species of bristle worms have been recorded in the Chesapeake Bay. Some of these species include:

  • Bloodworms, Glycera spp.
  • Common clamworm, Neanthes succinea
  • Capitellid threadworm, Heteromastus filiformis
  • Freckled paddle worm, Eteone heteropoda
  • Red-lined worms, Nephtys spp.
  • Common bamboo worm, Clymenella torquata
  • Trumpet worm, Pectinaria gouldii


Bristle worms have soft, segmented bodies with tiny, hair-like bristles along each side. The bristles are attached to appendages called parapodia. Each body segment has one pair of parapodia, which vary in shape depending on the species. Most worms have a head with eyes, antennae and sensory palps.


Some bristle worm species burrow or build permanent tube “homes” in mud flats along the shoreline, while others move freely throughout the shoreline and shallow waters, sometimes building tubes and burrows that they return to.


Found throughout the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.


Bristle worms eat plankton and other bits of organic matter such as algae and dead organisms. Tube-building worms have specialized appendages to help them gather food.

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

Most bristle worms reproduce by releasing eggs and sperm into the water, though some bristle worms reproduce asexually by budding. Larvae morph from a free-swimming stage to a segmented stage before maturing. A few bristle worm species take care of their young. 

Other Facts:

  • Bristle worms are related to leeches and earthworms.
  • They are also known as polychaetes. The class name polychaeta means “many hairs,” referring to the worms’ numerous bristles.
  • Many bristle worms break apart easily when handled. They are able to regenerate the lost or damaged parts.

Sources and Additional Information:

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