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An overview of major taxonomic groups held in the Australian Museum's Marine Invertebrate Collections.

Crustacea (includes crabs, lobsters, amphipods, prawns, and isopods)

These animals belong to the phylum Arthropoda (which includes crustaceans, insects and spiders). Crustaceans include lobsters, crayfish, prawns, crabs, seed shrimps, amphipods, isopods, ostracods, barnacles, slaters, pill bugs. These animals are among the most widespread and diverse group of invertebrates, and the larger malacostracan crustaceans (crabs, lobsters, prawns) are economically valuable. Although originally aquatic, many crustaceans, such as slaters (isopods) and beach-hoppers (amphipods), are adapted to life on land.

Characteristics of crustaceans

  • body segmented with a hardened shell
  • limbs generally with two branches
  • two pairs of antennae
  • body with 7 or more pairs of sometimes very different appendages for feeding, locomotion and sex
  • respiration by gills

The Australian Museum has a long tradition of studying crustaceans and this is reflected in the extensive collections.

Annelida (segmented worms: earthworms, polychaetes and leeches)

These animals belong to the Phylum Annelida. They include earthworms, marine bristle worms and leeches.

Characteristics of segmented worms

  • Long, basically cylindrical body
  • Body segmented both internally and externally
  • Have nervous, digestive and circulatory systems
  • Many species have a pair of leg-like appendages (not jointed) attached to every segment

The Australian Museum houses a large and important collection of oligochaetes (earthworms), polychaetes (bristle worms), and leeches, with extensive polychaete collections from Australia and the Indo-Pacific.


Acanthocephalans are intestinal parasites of vertebrates, particularly fish. About 700 species are known. The Australian Museum has a collection from Australia and Antarctica including type lots.


Bryozoans or lace corals are encrusting animals that are found on hard surfaces throughout the world's oceans. There are about 4500 species. The Australian Museum's historically important collection of Bryozoa includes more than 5000 lots mainly from Australia and Antarctica, and includes more than 140 type lots.


Chaetognaths or arrow worms are planktonic animals which live in the upper layers of the ocean and are found in all seas. The chaetognath collections of the Australian Museum include more than 30 lots from Australia and Antarctica including Johnston's types of Sagitta australis and Eukrohnia hamata.

Chelicerata (Merostomata and Pycnogonida)

The Chelicerata includes spiders, mites, scorpions and ticks, and most chelicerates in the Australian Museum collections are held in the Arachnology section. However the horseshoe crabs (Merostomata) and sea spiders (Pycnogonida) are in the Marine Invertebrate collections. The pycnogonid collections include collections from Australia and Antarctica and include more than 120 type lots.


The Ciliophora or ciliates are protozoans that common in aquatic environments. They may be parasitic or free-living and there are almost 8000 species. The Australian Museum's collection of Ciliophora is mainly from Australian freshwater crustaceans.


The Cnidaria includes corals, jellyfish, sea fans, anemones, and hydroids. The cnidarian collections of the Australian Museum include all classes of Cnidaria (more than 6000 lots) including a large collection of Indo-Pacific corals. The collection includes more than 350 type lots.


The Ctenophora or comb jellies are transparent and gelatinous animals that are found in the plankton. The Australian Museum has a small collection, mainly from Australian waters.


Echinoderms include sea stars, sea cucumbers, sea urchins, feather stars, brittle stars and sea daisies. They are only found in the sea. There are about 7000 described species of which about 1150 species are known from Australian waters. The Australian Museum has a large and important collection of more than 24,000 lots of all echinoderm classes from Australia and the Pacific, including more than 700 type lots. Many are cited in the Zoological Catalogue of Australia.


Echiurans are unsegmented worms called spoon worms. They live in soft sediments on the sea floor. The Australian Museum collections comprise more than 50 lots predominantly from Australian waters, including 12 type lots.


Hemichordates or acorn worms are worm-like marine animals that are usually found in shallow waters. The collections of the Australian Museum include more than 120 lots, predominantly of pterobranchs and a small number of enteropneusts. They are mainly from Antarctica and the Great Barrier Reef and the collection includes 3 type lots of Tornaria.


The Kamptozoa or Entoprocta, are small, sessile, marine animals which live attached to algae, shells and rocky surfaces. The Australian Museum holds a small collection from south-eastern Australia which has recently been verified and curated by a researcher in this field. We do not hold any types.


Kinorhyncs are less than 1mm in length and live in sand and mud on the sea floor. The only kinorhyncs in the Australian Museum collection are the types of Kinorhynchus phyllotropis.


Nematodes are known as round worms or thread worms and are one of the most abundant animal groups. They may be parasitic or free living and have been found in most habitats on earth. The Australian Museum collections include more than 500 lots of free-living and parasitic nematodes predominantly from Australia, including more than 50 type lots. Host animals for parasitic nematodes in the collection include reptiles, fish and mammals.


Nematomorphs are a small group (about 250 species) of parasitic worm-like animals often known as horsehair worms or gordian worms. They live mainly in freshwater and marine environments and the larval stage is parasitic. We have about 50 lots of Nematomorpha in the class Gordioida, predominantly from Australia. We do not hold any types.


Nemerteans, commonly known as ribbon worms, are unsegmented, mainly marine worms. There are about 1,000 described species. We have more than 500 lots of nemerteans, mainly from Australia and including sectioned specimens on slides. The collection includes 10 type lots.


Pentastomids are highly derived, worm-like parasites of vertebrates. There are about 100 described species. In our collection there are three specimens of Porocephalus sp. from a New Guinean frog Litoria exophthalmia.


Phoronids are worm-like marine tube-dwellers. They have an anterior lophophore and all are normally suspension-feeders. They are confined to the continental shelf and upper slope. Our collection contains more than 100 lots, mainly from Australian waters We do not hold any types.


Flat-worms are a diverse and common group of animals best known as human parasites (e.g. flukes and tapeworms), but also free-living in marine and freshwater environments. Free living and parasitic platyhelminths (more than 1600 lots) are held in the collection as both wet specimens and slides. The majority of the collection is from Australia and Papua New Guinea and includes more than 200 type lots.


Pogonophorans, known as beard-worms, are deepwater benthic animals best known for their lack of a digestive system. They are difficult to classify and some systematists consider them to be part of the Annelida. There are currently about 150 know species and although they were first discovered in Indonesia, none are known from Australian waters. We have more than 20 lots in our collection (17 types), mainly from Japan and Indonesia.


Generally known as sponges these sessile, amorphous animals are among the oldest known forms of life. Sponges are suspension-feeders which come in all shapes, sizes and colours. There are about 1350 species known from Australian waters. Sponges are receiving considerable attention as possible sources of compounds for medical research and a few species are potentially threatened by this activity. We have an extensive collection of more than 7000 lots of sponges mainly from Australian waters and many are cited in the Zoological Catalogue of Australia. We also hold an extensive collection of freshwater sponges from around the world. The collection includes more than 1100 type lots and many specimens and slides of historical importance including schizotypes from types deposited in other museums. Recently Professor Patricia Bergquist of the University of Auckland has deposited many slides from her work.


Priapulans are an ancient group of worm-like burrowing animals found only in the marine environment. The 15 or so described species live from the tropic to the poles. We have a small collection with specimens from Australia, Antarctica and Denmark. The collection contains no type material.


Foraminiferans are the only representatives of this unicellular phylum represented our collections. They are planktonic and benthic and vary greatly in size and shape. Our collections are mainly from New South Wales.


Sipunculans are worm-like animals commonly known as peanut worms. The 250+ known species are all marine bottom-dwellers usually 5 to 10 cm long. They burrow in soft bottoms or hide under bottom debris. The Australian Museum hold more than 450 lots, predominantly from Australia but with some Pacific material and includes 16 type lots.


Rotifers are tiny metazoans which are most common in freshwater habitats. The anterior end is often a ciliated corona and the posterior end is a foot with which they attach to the substrate. There are more than 1800 described species of these "wheel animals". The collection comprises the holotype and paratypes of Brachionus baylyi Sudzuki & Timms and one slide of Pedalion fennicum from the Solomon Islands.


Urochordates are generally known as sea squirts, ascidians, tunicates and salps. There are more than 3,000 species, most of which are suspension-feeders. The adults may be sessile or planktonic, but the larval stages have a notochord which suggests they are related to chordates. Our collection has more than 1600 lots, mainly from Australia and Antarctica, including more than 200 type lots. The Australian Museum collection is predominantly ascidians with some thaliaceans and salps, but few larvaceans.