Today is International Polychaete Day! On this day, we celebrate polychaetes for their extraordinary diversity, beauty, and the important role they play in marine and estuarine communities.

Since 2015, the world has been celebrating International Polychaete Day on the 1st of July. This date was chosen to honour Dr Kristian Fauchald (1935-2015) whose birthday fell on this date. Dr Fauchald was the former Polychaete Curator of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C., USA. Dr Fauchald was an influential researcher who dedicated over 60 years to studies on polychaetes and made important contributions to our understanding of their biology, ecology, reproduction, and phylogeny. He visited Australia multiple times and spent several months working on Australian polychaetes at the Australian Museum.

Dr Fauchald attended the very first International Polychaete Conference held in August 1983 at the Australian Museum. This conference attracted 95 participants from 16 countries and included a local field trip and a two-week field trip to Lizard Island Research Station. For many researchers, this was the first time they had a chance to put "faces" to the names they had only seen in publications (keep in mind, this was before the internet!). In his plenary talk, Dr Fauchald raised the issue of ‘cosmopolitan’ species – at the time, it was widely accepted that polychaetes were unusual animals as they often had wide distributions. Now most ‘cosmopolitan’ species have been found to include suites of distinct species in different parts of the world.

Group photo of delegates of the 1st International Polychaete Conference. Dr Kristian Fauchald is pictured here in bottom row on the right.

Group photo of delegates of the 1st International Polychaete Conference in 1983. Dr Kristian Fauchald is in the bottom row on the far right.

Image: Stuart Humphreys
© Australian Museum

As a testament to the success of the 1983 conference and the need for such meetings, polychaete conferences have been held every three years around the world in Brazil, China, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Spain, UK, and USA. The papers presented at these conferences have been published in dedicated proceedings. After 30 years, the 11th International Polychaete Conference returned to the Australian Museum in 2013. Once again, it included a two-week field trip to Lizard Island Research Station, which resulted in a significant dedicated volume of Zootaxa where 91 new species were described. Dr Fauchald attended every meeting until his passing in 2015 and was an active and enthusiastic supporter of these conferences. In 1995, at the 5th meeting in Qingdao, China we even celebrated his birthday and managed to find a birthday cake!

The workshop team at Lizard Island in 2013. The organisers are Australian Museum scientists Dr Pat Hutchings (front row, 3rd from right) and Dr Elena Kupryanova (front row, left).

The workshop team, as part of the International Polychaete Conference, at Lizard Island in 2013. The organisers are Australian Museum scientists Dr Pat Hutchings (front row, 3rd from right) and Dr Elena Kupriyanova (front row, left).

Image: Lyle Vail
© Lyle Vail

We are about to participate in the 14th conference in Stellenbosch, South Africa in July 2023, 40 years since the first one at the Australian Museum. These conferences have provided a tremendous opportunity for collaboration and a transfer of knowledge from established researchers to the next generation of scientists.

Today, we are very proud to celebrate International Polychaete Day and to honour Dr Fauchald who was a great scientist, a valued mentor, and a friend for so many of us.

Dr Elena Kupriyanova, Senior Research Scientist, Marine Invertebrates, Australian Museum.

Dr Pat Hutchings, Senior Fellow, Marine Invertebrates, Australian Museum.

More information:

  • Blake, J.A. 2011. The origin and history of the International Polychaetology Association and the triennial International Polychaete Conferences together with a summary of other polychaete symposia and meetings. Italian Journal of Zoology 78:sup1, 2-18.
  • Fauchald, K. 1983. Polychaete distribution patterns, or: can animals with Palaeozoic cousins show large-scale geographical patterns. In: Hutchings P.A. (ed). Proceedings of the 1st International Polychaete Conference. Linnean Society of New South Wales, Australia, pp. 1–6.
  • Hutchings, P.A. & Kupriyanova, E. (eds). 2015. Coral reef-associated fauna of Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef: polychaetes and allies. Zootaxa, Special Volume 4019(1): 1–801.
  • Hutchings, P.A. & Kupriyanova, E. 2018. Cosmopolitan polychaetes – fact or fashion? Personal and historical perspectives. Invertebrate Systematics 32(1): 1–9.
  • Kupriyanova, E. 2013. Beautiful Worms? Photographic display now open (Polychaetes Conference 2013). Australian Museum blog.
  • Zanol, J., Hutchings, P.A., & Fauchald, K. 2020. Eunice sensu lato (Annelida: Eunicidae) from Australia: description of seven new species and comments on previously reported species of the genera Eunice, Leodice and Nicidion. Zootaxa. 4748 (1): 001–043.