BIOTIC Species Information for Aphrodita aculeata
Researched byLizzie Tyler Data supplied byUniversity of Sheffield
Refereed byThis information is not refereed.
Scientific nameAphrodita aculeata Common nameSea mouse
MCS CodeP19 Recent SynonymsAphrodite aculeta

PhylumAnnelida Subphylum
Superclass ClassPolychaeta
Subclass OrderPhyllodocida
SuborderAphroditoidea FamilyAphroditidae
GenusAphrodita Speciesaculeata

Additional InformationAphrodita aculeata is named after the Greek goddess of love. All members of the family Aphroditidae are characterized by scales (the elytra) on their back (dorsal surface) which, in Aphrodita aculeata, are covered by a conspicuous layer of long, fine chaetae forming a mat of 'felt'. Detailed descriptions of this species are given by Fordham (1925), Chamber & Muir (1997) and Barnich & Fiege (2000). Aphrodita aculeata is distinguished from Aphrodita alta and Aphrodita perarmata by the presence of iridescent lateral chaetae in Aphrodita aculeata (Barnich & Fiege, 2000).

Individuals may be found washed up on shores after storms or stranded during low tides.

Taxonomy References Hayward et al., 1996, Fish & Fish, 1996, Hayward & Ryland, 1995b, Chambers & Muir, 1997, Howson & Picton, 1997, Fordham, 1925, Rouse & Pleijel, 2001, MBA, 1957, Parker et al., 2001, Barnich & Fiege, 2000,
General Biology
Growth formVermiform segmented
Feeding methodPredator
Environmental positionInfaunal
Typical food typesOther polychaetes (see additional information below). HabitFree living
BioturbatorDiffusive mixing FlexibilityHigh (>45 degrees)
FragilityIntermediate SizeMedium(11-20 cm)
Height Growth RateInsufficient information
Adult dispersal potential1km-10km DependencyIndependent
General Biology Additional InformationLittle information on the biology of this species was found. However, a detailed description of its anatomy is given by Fordham (1925).

Mettam (1980) found that Aphrodita aculeata was an active predator feeding primarily on other worms, including both large active polychaetes and sedentary polychaetes. For example, the gut contents of Aphrodita aculeata were reported to contain the remains of Pectinaria and Lumbriconereis; polynoids, nereids, sabellids and terebellid polychaetes; nemerteans, and very young crabs and hermit crabs. In laboratory experiments, Aphrodita aculeata did not feed unless buried and only attacked prey overnight. In the laboratory it fed on Nephtys hombergi, Hediste diversicolor and Nereis virens. Prey was swallowed whole, head first, passing slowly into the intestine, and its remains being deposited in a faecal pellet in the same order, i.e. head first (Mettam, 1980). Swallowing large prey is a laboured process (Mettam, 1980), e.g. the king rag Nereis virens, is about three times the length of the sea mouse. The swallowing of Nereis virens by the sea mouse was likened "to a hedgehog swallowing a snake" (Gunnar Thorson pers comm. cited in Mettam, 1980).

Mettam (1971) suggested that the wide body shape of Aphrodite aculeata was an adaptation to the 'slow crawling' mechanism of locomotion found in other polychaetes. Forward propulsion is achieved by movement of individual parapodia in a 'fast stepping pattern' rather than the sinusoidal undulations characteristic of many other polychaete worms. For an illustration and detail of the musculature and mechanism involved see Mettam (1971).

Aphroditoidea are known to harbour a variety of organisms under their scales and chaetae. Aphrodita aculeata was reported to host several entoprocts, e.g. Loxosomella claviformis, Loxosomella fauveli and Loxosomella obesa (Chambers & Muir, 1997).

Biology References Mettam, 1971, Mettam, 1980, Fordham, 1925, Rouse & Pleijel, 2001, Hayward & Ryland, 1990, Julie Bremner, unpub data, Chambers & Garwood, 1992,
Distribution and Habitat
Distribution in Britain & IrelandFound around the coasts of Britain and Ireland.
Global distributionReported from the North Atlantic including off Newfoundland and the North Sea, the Baltic, and the Mediterranean.
Biogeographic rangeNot researched Depth range
MigratoryNon-migratory / Resident   
Distribution Additional InformationBarnich & Fiege (2000) cite a record of Aphrodita aculeata from a depth of 3000 m in the Atlantic.

Substratum preferencesFine clean sand
Coarse clean sand
Muddy sand
Muddy gravel
Sandy mud
Physiographic preferencesOpen coast
Offshore seabed
Strait / sound
Enclosed coast / Embayment
Biological zoneUpper Infralittoral
Lower Infralittoral
Upper Circalittoral
Lower Circalittoral
Wave exposureExposed
Moderately Exposed
Very Sheltered
Extremely Sheltered
Tidal stream strength/Water flowModerately Strong (1-3 kn)
Weak (<1 kn)
Very Weak (negligible)
SalinityFull (30-40 psu)
Habitat Preferences Additional InformationNone entered
Distribution References Hayward et al., 1996, Fish & Fish, 1996, Hayward & Ryland, 1995b, Chambers & Muir, 1997, NBN, 2002, JNCC, 1999, Fordham, 1925, MBA, 1957, Barnich & Fiege, 2000, Hayward & Ryland, 1990, Julie Bremner, unpub data,
Reproduction/Life History
Reproductive typeGonochoristic
Developmental mechanismLecithotrophic
Reproductive Seasonwinter - spring Reproductive LocationWater column
Reproductive frequencyAnnual episodic Regeneration potential No
Life span6-10 years Age at reproductive maturity1-2 years
Generation timeInsufficient information Fecundity
Egg/propagule size Fertilization typeExternal
Larval/Juvenile dispersal potentialInsufficient information Larval settlement periodInsufficient information
Duration of larval stage   
Reproduction Preferences Additional InformationLittle information on the reproduction and development of this species was found.
Aphrodita aculeata is dioecious, i.e. has separate sexes. In females, the ova (eggs), and in males the sperm, develop from the peritoneal sheath of the blood vessels (except the major dorsal and ventral vessels and branches close to the intestine) (Fordham, 1925). The ova and sperm are released into the body cavity (coelum) where the sperm complete their development. Mature females can be identified by 'cream coloured' eggs visible through the thin walls of the parapodia. In mature males the coelum is filled with a milky fluid, i.e. sperm (Fordham, 1925). No spermatophore was observed, although sperm may be arranged in groups of up to four (Fordham, 1925). Presumably large numbers of eggs and sperm are released although no estimate of fecundity was found.
Sperm and ova are shed through the nephridia (the annelid excretory organs) and their nephridiopores on the dorsal surface (Fordham, 1925). Mature males and females were observed at Plymouth in October, when males were seen to spawn, although mature specimens were also collected in March (Fordham, 1925). Fordham (1925) also reported mature individuals in May and spawning in June (location unknown), and mature females in the Naples area in September. Individuals were observed spawning off Rame, Plymouth in November 1923 and mature females were collected in the Plymouth area in September 1930 (MBA, 1957). Thorson (1946) reports spawning in the Naples area in January and February, in aquaria in Naples in March, and mature females in the St Andrews area in May. Overall, Thorson (1946) suggested that spawning occurred in winter and spring.
Larval development
Larval development is probably but not necessarily similar to related species of Aphroditidae such as Hermonia hystrix and to a lesser degree to members of the Polynoidae such as Harmothoe lunulata (as imbricata). Larval development is lecithotrophic in the Aphroditidae so far studied i.e. Hermonia hystrix (Rouse & Pleijel, 2001). The larva is probably a ciliated, free-swimming trochophore, which develops into a juvenile composed of only a few segments on settlement. The larvae of Hermonia hystrix has a long pelagic phase (von Draschke, 1885 cited in Thorson, 1946). However, although Aphrodite aculeata were very common in the Øresund and, therefore, their larvae were expected to be common in the plankton, none were found in a four year period (Thorson, 1946). Therefore, Thorson (1946) suggested that the larvae of Aphrodite aculeata either had a very short pelagic phase or non-pelagic development. However, no information on the larval development of this species was found.
Reproduction References Fordham, 1925, Thorson, 1946, Schroeder, 1989, Rouse & Pleijel, 2001, MBA, 1957, Schroeder & Hermans, 1975, Julie Bremner, unpub data,
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