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Poisonous animals
Cnidarians (Jellyfish, Corals and Anemones)
Venomous fish
Hymenopterans (Bees, Wasps and Ants)
Sea snakes
Terrestrial snakes
Miscellaneous animals



Bristle worms

Clinical entries

For clinical data see section “Risk” below


  1. Chloeia sp. 
  2. Eunice sp. 
  3. Eurythoe sp. 
  4. Glycera sp. 
  5. Hermodice sp.


Annelida; Polychaeta; Errantia; Amphionomidae (1, 2, 3 and 5) or Glyceridae (4)

Common names

Bristle worms, Borstenwürmer
1. Sea mouse 
4. Blood worm 
5. Feuerwurm


  1. Indian and Pacific Oceans, Caribbean, the tropical and subtropical Atlantic coasts of Central and South America
  2. Tropical to warm oceans
  3. Tropical to warm oceans, Caribbean
  4. Atlantic coast of the USA/Canada (G. dibranchiata) and Norway (G. alba), New Zealand (G. ovigera)
  5. Caribbean, Florida


Polychaetes are a group of marine annelid worms. The order described here, Errantia, is made up of free-swimming animals whose habitat ranges from shallow waters to the ocean depths. Elongated, segmented bodies, body length in most species between 5 and 10 cm, some up to more than 1 m (Eunice aphroditois) or even up to 3 m (Eunice gigantea).


  Fig. 4.85 Bristle worm (schematic).


On the sides of each body segment there are a pair of short outgrowths (parapodia) that carry numerous bundled bristles (setae). Some genera, such as Chloeia, Eurythoe and Hermodice, have tapered and sometimes barbed bristles for passive defence. These bristles are hollow, but as yet no venomous fluid has ever been detected inside them. On contact the bristles can penetrate the skin and cause a painful reaction.

Glycera alba, G. dibranchiata, G. ovigera, Eunice aphroditois and possibly other species can give painful bites. At the front of their evertable mouths they have four chitinous claws, which in Glycera are associated with venom glands.


Injuries from bristle worms practically only ever occur when the animals are handled.

Penetration of the skin by the bristles leads to local reactions. The effects of Glycera sp. bites are compared to those of bee stings. In the USA and Canada, G. dibranchiata are collected and sold as fishing bait.



Literature (biological)

Cleland and Southcott 1965, Halstead 1988, Halstead et al. 1990, Kem 1988, Williamson et al. 1996