An oligochaete (Limnodrilus hoffmeisteri)

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



Limnodrilus hoffmeisteri is a small, thin worm about 20-35 mm in length. It has a simple conical shaped head, that lacks eyespots, and a long cylindrical body of numerous segments (55-95). The segments have on each side an upper and lower bundle of bristles (setae), that are able to move and are used for burrowing in sediment. The worm may appear red in colour, owing to the possession of the respiratory pigment haemoglobin. Like all other oligochaetes, the species is a hermaphrodite, with a complex reproductive system.

Recorded distribution in Britain and Ireland

Widely distributed around Britain and Ireland. The species is probably under recorded by surveys but reported in the upper Thames, Severn and Forth estuaries, and on the Norfolk coast east of Blyford.

Global distribution



It has a wide ecological range and inhabits cohesive muds in all types of waters including polluted, but it cannot tolerate oxygen deficiency. Although a freshwater species it is found further seaward than any other freshwater aquatic oligochaete species and is found in habitats likely to be exposed to very low salt levels, e.g. upper estuaries where interstitial salinity is less than 5 psu.

Depth range


Identifying features

  • Small, thin worm, typically slightly longer than 2 cm in length.
  • Red in colour.
  • Eyespots absent.
  • Usually 7 setae per bundle on body segments.
  • Setae are all bifid (double-pointed), with the teeth of variable proportions
  • Testes in body segment X and male pore in segment XI.
  • Ovaries in body segment XI and spermatheca (sac-shaped invagination of body wall for receiving sperm during copulation) in segment X.
  • Penis sheaths, long, thick and very distinctive.
  • No genital setae in mature forms.
Reference to Brinkhurst (1982) and Brinkhurst & Jamieson (1971) is recommended.

Additional information

Oligochaetes are segmented, bilaterally symmetrical, cylindrical worms, with tapering ends. They are very small, typically not much longer than 2 cm in length with a diameter of only a fraction of a millimetre. Typically each body segment possesses four bundles of setae (chitinous bristles projecting from the body). The setae vary considerably in size and shape, and between families, so are consequently used extensively in identification. Examination under a microscope and of internal anatomy is likely to be required for accurate identification and attention paid to the rather complex reproductive system. The number of gonads, the position of one gonad relative to the other, and the segments in which they occur are used to define the families. In the Tubificidae the form of the male duct is used to define genera.

Listed by

- none -


  1. Birtwell, I.K. & Arthur, D.R., 1980. The ecology of tubificids in the Thames Estuary with particular reference to Tubifex costatus (Claparède). In Proceedings of the first international symposium on aquatic oligochaete biology, Sydney, British Colombia, Canada, May 1-4, 1979. Aquatic oligochaete biology (ed. R.O. Brinkhurst & D.G. Cook), pp. 331-382. New York: Plenum Press

  2. Brinkhurst, R.O. & Jamieson, B.G.M., 1971. Aquatic Oligochaeta of the world. Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd.

  3. Brinkhurst, R.O., 1982. British and other marine and estuarine oligochaetes. Cambridge University Press, [Synopses of the British Fauna, No. 21].

  4. Brusca, R.C. & Brusca, G.J., 1979. Invertebrates. USA: Sinaeur Associates.

  5. McLusky, D.S., Teare, M. & Phizachlea, P., 1980. Effects of domestic and industrial pollution on distribution and abundance of aquatic oligochaetes in the Forth estuary. Helgolander Wissenschaftliche Meeresuntersuchungen, 33, 384-392.

  6. Poddubnaya, T.L., 1980. Life cycles of mass species of Tubificidae (Oligochaeta). In Proceedings of the first international symposium on aquatic oligochaete biology, Sydney, British Colombia, Canada, May 1-4, 1979. Aquatic oligochaete biology (ed. R.O. Brinkhurst & D.G. Cook), pp. 175-184. New York: Plenum Press.


  1. Environmental Records Information Centre North East, 2018. ERIC NE Combined dataset to 2017. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-09-38

  2. Merseyside BioBank., 2018. Merseyside BioBank (unverified). Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-10-01.

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

  4. OBIS (Ocean Biodiversity Information System),  2024. Global map of species distribution using gridded data. Available from: Ocean Biogeographic Information System. Accessed: 2024-07-14

  5. Rotherham Biological Records Centre, 2017. Rotherham Biological Records Centre - Non-sensitive Records from all taxonomic groups. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-10-02.

  6. South East Wales Biodiversity Records Centre, 2018. SEWBReC Worms (South East Wales). Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-10-02.

  7. South East Wales Biodiversity Records Centre, 2018. Dr Mary Gillham Archive Project. Occurance dataset: accessed via on 2018-10-02


This review can be cited as:

Budd, G.C. 2003. Limnodrilus hoffmeisteri An oligochaete. 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 14-07-2024]. Available from:

Last Updated: 08/01/2003