Parchment worm (Chaetopterus variopedatus)

Distribution data supplied by the Ocean Biodiversity Information System (OBIS). To interrogate UK data visit the NBN Atlas.Map Help



The parchment worm Chaetopterus variopedatus is distinctive, large and stout but fragile.  It grows up to 25 cm in length and between 1 and 2.5 cm in width.  It is yellowish or greenish white in colour with mature females becoming pinkish. The body is divided into three distinct regions, the short anterior end with an inconspicuous head, a mid region with highly specialized feeding structures, and a longer, regularly segmented hind end with repeating appendages.  The worms live permanently in tough, flexible tubes of a whitish parchment-like material. The open end is narrow and protrudes slightly from the substratum.

Recorded distribution in Britain and Ireland

Widely distributed around British coasts, but not recorded on the east coast of England south of the Tees estuary.

Global distribution



The tough permanent tubes are seen in sand and stone or shell gravel from low water to considerable depths, and in deeper water on rock, in fissures in rock and under boulders.

Depth range


Identifying features

  • An irregularly segmented worm, up to 25 cm long and 1 to 2.5 cm wide, living permanently in a parchment-like tube.
  • Body in three distinct regions, a short anterior region, mid region with differing appendages modified for feeding, longer posterior region distinctly segmented.
  • Parts of the body phosphorescent.
  • The tubes protrude slightly from the sand at both ends and are non-ringed, tough and flexible.

Additional information

Other species of polychaete may occasionally occupy vacant tubes.

Listed by

- none -


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  1. Centre for Environmental Data and Recording, 2018. Ulster Museum Marine Surveys of Northern Ireland Coastal Waters. Occurrence dataset accessed via on 2018-09-25.

  2. Fenwick, 2018. Aphotomarine. Occurrence dataset Accessed via on 2018-10-01

  3. Manx Biological Recording Partnership, 2018. Isle of Man historical wildlife records 1990 to 1994. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-10-01.

  4. NBN (National Biodiversity Network) Atlas. Available from:

  5. OBIS (Ocean Biodiversity Information System),  2024. Global map of species distribution using gridded data. Available from: Ocean Biogeographic Information System. Accessed: 2024-05-28


This review can be cited as:

Avant, P. 2002. Chaetopterus variopedatus Parchment worm. In Tyler-Walters H. and Hiscock K. Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Reviews, [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. [cited 28-05-2024]. Available from:

Last Updated: 21/06/2002