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Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Annelida
Classes and subclasses
Class Polychaeta - paraphyletic?
Class Clitellata
    Oligochaeta (earthworms and others)
    Hirudinea (leeches)
Class Myzostomida
Class Archiannelida - polyphyletic
Class Echiura

The annelids, collectively called Annelida, are a large phylum of animals, comprising the segmented worms, with about 15000 modern species including the well-known earthworms and leeches. They are found in most wet environments, and include many terrestrial, freshwater, and especially marine species, as well as some which are parasitic or mutualistic. They range in length from under a millimetre to over 3 metres.


Annelids are triploblastic protostomes. The body cavity is a coelom, which is divided into a sequence of compartments by walls called septae. In the most general forms each compartment corresponds to a single segment of the body, which also includes a portion of the nervous and (closed) circulatory systems, allowing it to function relatively independently. Each segment is marked externally by one or more rings, called annuli. In most forms they also carry a varying number of bristles, called setae, and among the polychaetes a pair of appendages, called parapodia. Among the leeches the coelom is largely filled in with tissue.

Anterior to the true segments lies the prostomium and peristomium, which carries the mouth, and posterior to them lies the pygidium, where the anus is located. The digestive tract is usually specialized. Different species of annelids have a wide variety of diets, including active and passive hunters, scavengers, filter feeders, direct deposit feeders which simply ingest the sediments, and blood-suckers.


Most polychaete worms have separate males and females. The earliest larval stage, which is lost in some groups, is a ciliated trocophore, similar to those found in other phyla. The animal then begins to develop its segments, one after another, until it reaches its adult size. The oligochaetes and leeches tend to be hermaphroditic and lack free-living larvae of this sort. While annelids have some regenerative abilities, sometimes to the point where each half of an adult divided cross-wise will survive, this is not universal, and especially does not occur among the earthworms as folklore would suggest.

Fossil record

The annelid fossil record is sparse, but a few definite forms are known as early as the Cambrian, and there are some signs they were around in the later Precambrian. A few small groups have been treated as separate phyla: the Pogonophora and Vestimentifera, now included in the family Siboglinidae, and the Echiura.


The arthropods and their kin have long been considered the closest relatives of the annelids, on account of their common segmented structure, but a number of differences between the two groups suggest this may be convergent evolution. The other major phylum which is of definite relation to the annelids are the molluscs, which share with them the presence of trochophore larvae. These groups are united as the Trochozoa, and when the arthropods are included, they and the annelids are treated in a subgroup called the Articulata.

Classes and subclasses of Annelida