The United Nations establishes international days to promote awareness on global issues and to commemorate important events. Other groups declare a day for much less serious reasons, for example, the delicious Strawberry Shortcake Day or the playful Go Fly a Kite Day. Depending on the calendar, there is a “Day” for nearly everything you can imagine, except …..polychaetes.
But, what is a polychaete?
Polychaetes are segmented worms (I heard those eews!) that are found mostly in saltwater. There are about 8,000 named species in the world and at least twice that many still to be named. They are very important animals in the food webs that are critical to keeping our oceans healthy --- many are even breathtakingly beautiful.
Polychaetes are found in all marine habitats from the deepest oceans to the shallowest tide pool, and even in freshwater habitats. They are often the most numerous animals in a square meter of sea floor mud. They range in size from less than a millimeter as adults to several meters long. They are found in the fossil record back through the Cambrian. They build reefs from their tubes, turn over the seafloor much like their earthworm cousins, and are a major part of marine food webs. Most have hydrostatic skeleton, which means instead of their muscles working on hard structures like bone or cartilage, they work on pressure from water – think about a water balloon pushing and pulling against that constricted water. Bottom line, they are essential and fascinating members of our world.
So, if Gummy Worms get a day, we decided it was time that polychaetes get one too. We chose to commemorate a great polychaete scientist, Kristian Fauchald, a dedicated scientist who spent 36 years at the Smithsonian. Kristian passed away in April, and we decided to commemorate him on what would have been his 80th birthday – July 1, 2015.
Our goal is to share the beauty, interest, and importance of polychaetes with the world on this day in honor of Kristian. To do that, we are encouraging a global conversation with a large network of activities and experts talking to the public at museums, aquaria, and science education centers around the world.
Find an event near you and tell us how you’re celebrating by using the hashtag #InternationalPolychaeteDay. Browse incredible images of polychaetes on our Ocean Portal, explore current research from the Department of Invertebrate Zoology, and join us for a full day of free activities to celebrate poylchaetes!
By Karen Osborn, Research Zoologist/Curator, Department of Invertebrate Zoology, NMNH